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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.

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.


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. The fruit develops from an inferior ovary, and is a berry; it is usually brightly coloured, often being red or bluish with purple juice.


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.[4][5] It is not the same word as vaccinum "of or pertaining to cows".[6]

The taxonomy of the genus is complex, and still under investigation. Genetic analysis indicates that the genus Vaccinium is not monophyletic.[7] A number of the Asian species are more closely related to Agapetes than to other Vaccinium species.[7][8] 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.[7] Other parts of Vaccinium form other groups, sometimes together with species of other genera.[7]Vaccinium's taxonomy 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.[7]


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 habitatEdit

The genus contains about 450 species,[14] 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.

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.[15][16]


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.

Fossil recordEdit

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.[17]


Harvest cranberries, New Jersey, United States

Production tonnes. Figures 2003–2004[clarification needed]
FAOSTAT data (FAO)[citation needed]

United States 280,503 80% 270,000 78%
Canada 52,651 15% 53,400 16%
Belarus 8,000 2% 10,000 3%
Latvia 8,000 2% 8,000 2%
Azerbaijan 2,000 1% 1,500 0%
Ukraine 1,000 0% 1,000 0%
Tunisia 50 0% 50 0%
Turkey 50 0% 50 0%
Total 352 254 100% 344 000 100%

See alsoEdit


  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). 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. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Coombes, Allen J. (1994). Dictionary of Plant Names. London: Hamlyn Books. ISBN 978-0-600-58187-1. p. 187.
  6. ^ P.G.W. Glare, ed. (1996). Oxford Latin Dictionary. p. 2000. ISBN 0-19-864224-5.
  7. ^ a b c d e 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.
  8. ^ Fang, Ruizheng; Stevens, Peter F. "Vaccinium". Flora of China. 14 – via, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
  9. ^ "GBIF: Vaccinium microcarpum". Retrieved 2016-10-17.
  10. ^ "Vaccinium microcarpum" at the Encyclopedia of Life
  11. ^ "Vaccinium stenophyllum". Tropicos. Missouri Botanical Garden.
  12. ^ "Vaccinium pallidum Aiton". Retrieved 13 June 2017.
  13. ^ "Vaccinium stamineum L." Retrieved 13 June 2017.
  14. ^ "vaccinium species". Retrieved 20 August 2016.
  15. ^ "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.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ 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.

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