In Steve's Zone 8 garden the mayberry blooms in late winter. Click to download a large version (800x600) of this image.
The highbush blueberries of the southeastern U.S. are a confusing lot, exhibiting tremendous morphological diversity. Some authorities recognize as many as a dozen different species, including diploids, tetraploids, hexaploids and all kinds of hybrids. On the other hand, one recent authority is much more conservative, claiming that there is only one extremely variable species of highbush blueberry (V. corymbosum would be the name). An even more recent authority concludes that we should recognize three species: rabbiteye blueberry (V. ashei), the true highbush blueberry (V. corymbosum, and the Mayberry (V. elliottii). Floridata will follow this classification.
These mayberries ripening in the warm April sunshine will be delicious treats by late spring.
Vaccinium elliottii is the most distinctive of the three highbush blueberries. The leaves are much smaller than any of the others, never exceeding 1 in (2.5 cm) in length. Those of the rabbiteye and true highbush blueberries are usually more than an inch long, sometimes up to 3 in (7.6 cm) in length. Also, the Mayberry alone has minute teeth with gland-tipped hairs on the leaf margins. Young woody stems of Mayberry are bright green. Mayberry gets up to 12 ft (3.7 m) high with a rather loose, open habit, multiple stems, and a spread of 3-5 ft (0.9-1.5 m). The flowers appear in early spring, before the leaves and new shoot growth. They are pinkish, 0.25 in (0.6 cm) long, and in clusters of 2-6. The fruit is a blue-black berry a little less than a 0.5 in (1.3 cm) in diameter.
Location V. elliottii occurs on the North American southeastern Coastal Plain from southeastern Virginia through Florida and west to Arkansas and eastern Texas. Mayberry is an understory shrub, occurring, often abundantly, in diverse habitats, from swamps to dry uplands.
Mayberry does best on acidic soils. Pruning is seldom necessary, but it should be noted that blueberries bloom on the previous year's wood, therefore, the current year's flower buds will be removed if the shrub is pruned in winter.
Light: All the blueberries do best in full sun but they also do quite well in light shade and will survive in dense shade. They grow bushier and produce more fruit in full sun. Moisture: Mayberry will thrive in poorly drained wet soil and in well drained sandy soil. Established specimens can tolerate normal droughts. Hardiness: USDA Zones 6 - 9. Propagation: Blueberries can be propagated from softwood cuttings taken in early summer. They may also be grown from seed which normally does not require any special treatment.
Mayberry has a loose open form that works well in natural gardens and deserves a place of honor in plantings intended to attract birds and wildlife.
Mayberry is a beautiful shrub for a mixed hedge or as a specimen. The leaves turn brilliant shades of scarlet in fall before they drop. If you're lucky enough to have one growing naturally at the edge of your yard, take care of it; reduce competition from other plants around it; open up the canopy above it a little. Mayberry has a graceful, open habit that responds well to pruning. The delicious berries are just the topping on the cake (or cereal or pancakes). Each year here in our North Florida yard a raucous mockingbird lays claim to a mayberry bush for the whole spring and summer season. No other birds are allowed near this bush until all the berries are finally gone, usually in June or July.
The highbush blueberries are the source of the commercial rabbiteye blueberries grown in the American southeast. Vaccinium ashei, and this one, V. elliottii, both figured into the development of the commercial varieties. The southern blueberries are the perfect fruit for the home gardener: they require no chemical spraying, no supplemental watering, no winter protection, no fertilizing. The berries ripen over an extended period, so you can pick them gradually. You may, however, find that the birds are beating you to the fruit as it ripens. The remedy for this is to pick berries every morning when they are almost fully ripe, then let them finish ripening for 24 hours in the house. We do this during the picking season, and then freeze the berries whole in gallon freezer bags for later use on cereal and in pancakes.