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Vaccinium berries, from top left clockwise:
Red huckleberries, cranberries, lingonberries and blueberries
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Ericales
Family: Ericaceae
Subfamily: Vaccinioideae
Tribe: Vaccinieae
Genus: Vaccinium
Type species
Vaccinium uliginosum[1]
  • Oxycoccus Hill
  • Polycodium Raf.
  • Batodendron Nutt.

Vaccinium /vækˈsɪniəm/[3] is a common and widespread genus of shrubs or dwarf shrubs in the heath family (Ericaceae). The fruits of many species are eaten by humans and some are of commercial importance, including the cranberry, blueberry, bilberry (whortleberry), lingonberry (cowberry), and huckleberry. Like many other ericaceous plants, they are generally restricted to acidic soils.


The plant structure varies between species: some trail along the ground, some are dwarf shrubs, and some are larger shrubs perhaps 1 to 2 m (3 to 7 ft) tall. Some tropical species are epiphytic.[4] Stems are usually woody. Flowers are epigynous with fused petals, and have long styles that protrude from their bell-shaped corollas. Stamens have anthers with extended tube-like structures called "awns" through which pollen falls when mature.[5] Inflorescences can be axillary or terminal. The fruit develops from an inferior ovary, and is a four- or five-parted berry; it is usually brightly coloured, often being red or bluish with purple juice. Roots are commonly mycorrhizal, which likely help the plants to access nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus in the acidic, nutrient-poor soils they inhabit.[4]


The genus was first described scientifically by Carl Linnaeus in 1753.[1] The name Vaccinium was used in classical Latin for a plant, possibly the bilberry or a hyacinth, and may be derived from the Latin bacca, berry, although its ultimate derivation is obscure.[6][7] It is not the same word as Vaccinum "of or pertaining to cows".[8]

The taxonomy of the genus is complex, and still under investigation. Genetic analyses indicates that the genus Vaccinium is not monophyletic.[9] A number of the Asian species are more closely related to Agapetes than to other Vaccinium species.[9][10] A second group includes most of Orthaea and Notopora, at least some of Gaylussacia (huckleberry), and a number of species from Vaccinium, such as Vaccinium crassifolium.[9] Other parts of Vaccinium form other groups, sometimes together with species of other genera.[9] The taxonomy of Vaccinium can either be resolved by enlarging the genus to include the entirety of the tribe Vaccinieae, or by breaking the genus up into several different genera.[9]


Vaccinium oxycoccos, the common cranberry, one kind of cranberry

A classification predating molecular phylogeny divides Vaccinium into subgenera, and several sections:

Subgenus Oxycoccus
The cranberries, with slender, trailing, wiry non-woody shoots and strongly reflexed flower petals. Some botanists treat Oxycoccus as a distinct genus.
Subgenus Vaccinium
All the other species, with thicker, upright woody shoots and bell-shaped flowers

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The genus contains about 450 species,[17] which are found mostly in the cooler areas of the Northern Hemisphere, although there are tropical species from areas as widely separated as Madagascar and Hawaii. The genus is distributed worldwide except for Australia and Antarctica, but areas of great Vaccinium diversity include the montane regions of North and South America, as well as Southeast Asia.[4][18] Species are still being discovered in the Andes.[19]

Plants of this group typically require acidic soils, and as wild plants they live in habitats such as heath, bog and acidic woodland (for example, blueberries under oaks or pines). Blueberry plants are commonly found in oak-heath forests in eastern North America.[20][21] Vaccinium is found in both successional and stable sites, and is fire-adapted in many regions, withstanding low-intensity burns, and re-sprouting from rhizomes when above-ground tissues are burned off.[4]


Vaccinium species are used as food plants by the larvae of a number of Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) species – see list of Lepidoptera that feed on Vaccinium. Berries of North American species nourish a variety of mammals and birds, notably including the grizzly bear.[4][22]

Fossil record[edit]

Two fossil seeds of †Vaccinium minutulum have been extracted from borehole samples of the Middle Miocene fresh water deposits in Nowy Sacz Basin, West Carpathians, Poland.[23]


Harvest cranberries, New Jersey, United States

Blueberries (sect. Cyanococcus) and cranberries (sect. Oxycoccus) are relatively newly cultivated plants, and are largely unchanged from their wild relatives. Genetic breeding of blueberries began around the turn of the 20th century, and was spearheaded by Frederick Coville who performed many cross-breeding trials and produced dozens of new blueberry cultivars.[24] He often tested new cultivars for their flavor, and claimed that after a long day of tasting, "all blueberries taste the same, and all taste sour."[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Vaccinium Linnaeus". Index Nominum Genericorum. International Association for Plant Taxonomy. 2003-02-05. Retrieved 2008-05-09.
  2. ^ Vander Kloet, Sam P. (2009). "Vaccinium". In Flora of North America Editorial Committee (ed.). Flora of North America North of Mexico (FNA). Vol. 8. New York and Oxford – via, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
  3. ^ Sunset Western Garden Book. 1995. pp. 606–607.
  4. ^ a b c d e Vander Kloet, Samuel P. (1988). The Genus Vaccinium in North America. Ottawa, Canada: Research Branch, Agriculture Canada.
  5. ^ Palser, Barbara F. (1961-12-01). "Studies of Floral Morphology in the Ericales. V. Organography and Vascular Anatomy in Several United States Species of the Vacciniaceae". Botanical Gazette. 123 (2): 79–111. doi:10.1086/336134. ISSN 0006-8071. S2CID 85148687.
  6. ^ Hyam, R. & Pankhurst, R.J. (1995). Plants and their names : a concise dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-866189-4. p. 515.
  7. ^ Coombes, Allen J. (1994). Dictionary of Plant Names. London: Hamlyn Books. ISBN 978-0-600-58187-1. p. 187.
  8. ^ P.G.W. Glare, ed. (1996). Oxford Latin Dictionary. p. 2000. ISBN 0-19-864224-5.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Kathleen A. Kron; E. Ann Powell; J. L. Luteyn (2002). "Phylogenetic relationships within the blueberry tribe (Vaccinieae, Ericaceae) based on sequence data from MATK and nuclear ribosomal ITS regions, with comments on the placement of Satyria". American Journal of Botany. 89 (2): 327–336. doi:10.3732/ajb.89.2.327. PMID 21669741.
  10. ^ Fang, Ruizheng; Stevens, Peter F. "Vaccinium". Flora of China. Vol. 14 – via, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
  11. ^ "GBIF: Vaccinium microcarpum". Retrieved 2016-10-17.
  12. ^ "Vaccinium microcarpum" at the Encyclopedia of Life
  13. ^ "Vaccinium stenophyllum". Tropicos. Missouri Botanical Garden.
  14. ^ "Vaccinium pallidum Aiton". Archived from the original on 25 April 2009. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
  15. ^ "Vaccinium stamineum L." Archived from the original on 25 April 2009. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
  16. ^ "Lewis and Clark Herbarium - Plants collected by Lewis and Clark". Retrieved 2019-12-20.
  17. ^ "vaccinium species". Retrieved 20 August 2016.
  18. ^ Tsutsumi, Chie (May 22, 2011). "The Phylogenetic Positions of Four Endangered Vaccinium Species in Japan" (PDF). Bulletin of the National Museum of Nature and Science. 37: 79–86.
  19. ^ Pedraza-Peñalosa, Paola; Luteyn, James L. (2011-06-01). "Andean Vaccinium (Ericaceae: Vaccinieae): Seven new species from South America". Brittonia. 63 (2): 257–275. doi:10.1007/s12228-010-9164-y. ISSN 1938-436X. S2CID 40949853.
  20. ^ "The Natural Communities of Virginia Classification of Ecological Community Groups (Version 2.3), Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, 2010". Archived from the original on 5 January 2011. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
  21. ^ Schafale, M. P. & Weakley, A. S. (1990). Classification of the natural communities of North Carolina: third approximation. North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation.
  22. ^ Mace, R. D., & Jonkel, C. J. (1986). "Local food habits of the grizzly bear in Montana". Bears: Their Biology and Management. 6: 105–110. doi:10.2307/3872813. JSTOR 3872813.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  23. ^ Łańcucka-Środoniowa M.: Macroscopic plant remains from the freshwater Miocene of the Nowy Sącz Basin (West Carpathians, Poland) [Szczątki makroskopowe roślin z miocenu słodkowodnego Kotliny Sądeckiej (Karpaty Zachodnie, Polska)]. Acta Palaeobotanica 1979 20 (1): 3-117.
  24. ^ a b Coville, F. V. (1910). Experiments in Blueberry Culture. US Government Printing Office.

External links[edit]