A new hybrid blueberry “tree” could prove useful to both novelty gardeners and commercial farmers because the physical change will allow for much more efficient machine harvesting. Wei Qiang Yang, Berry Crops Extension Agent for OSU’s North Willamette Research and Extension Center, has successfully tested a grafted blueberry “tree” this December and so far progress looks like it could land these new plants in nurseries in about three years.
Yang claims that farmers will have a much easier time managing these berries because of ease of pruning and an adaptation to a higher pH, allowing for less soil modification in most areas.
Additionally, it is claimed to be more resistant to drought. This larger, tree-like plant would also allow for more economical harvesting; a single trunk is far more easy to process with a machine then a small bush. This would be a significant cost-reducing measure for commercial farmers.
The hybrid plant was created by grafting popular highbush blueberry varieties—Liberty, Aurora, and Draper—onto rootstock taken from a wild growing species. One of the more promising candidates is Vaccinium arboreum, commonly known as Sparkleberry. It’s known for its ability to grow up to 10 feet, but produces small, bitter berries.
Professor Yang’s work will combine the best of both worlds, producing a tree that bears a comparable yield of sweet berries. This plant will be the culmination of the efforts of many researchers that are taking part in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crops Research Initiative. This has been a multi-state effort, with collaboration from land-grant universities in California and Florida.