Sparkleberry

Vaccinium arboreum
Family: Ericaceae

Natural History

Sparkleberry grows on sand dunes, hammocks, dry hillsides, meadows, and in rocky woods. It also grows on a variety of moist sites such as wet bottomlands and along creek banks. Sparkleberry is found in most of the eastern United States between Texas and Florida in the south, to Virginia, Indiana, and Kansas in the north.

White-tailed deer, hares, and rabbits feed on the leaves. The fruit is eaten by a wide variety of birds and mammals, including black bears, deer, and chipmunks. The flowers provide food for bees. The wood has been used to make tool handles, smoking pipes, and craft items. The bark has been used for tanning leather.

Sparkleberry is recognizable by its spreading branches, leafy appearance, and small, shiny leaves that are almost as wide as they are long. White flowers appear in spring that are about ¼" wide. Lustrous black berries ripen from late summer to late winter. Although the berries are a favorite wildlife food, they are quite untasteful for humans.


 

Identifying Characteristics

Size/Form: Sparkleberry is an upright shrub or small tree that usually measures 6'-12' tall but can reach up to 30' tall. It commonly grows in clumps, although individual plants have dense, rounded crowns.
Leaves: The leaves are simple, alternate, and evergreen or they may fall off in late winter or early spring. They are 1" to 2" long, ½" to 1" wide, and oval to obovate in outline. The upper leaf surface is shiny, dark green, the lower leaf surface is paler green, and the leaf margin is entire or very finely toothed.
Fruit: The fruit is a dry, round berry, ¼" wide, and ripens from green to purple or black.
Stem: New stems are brownish-gray to reddish-brown and somewhat zig-zagged, but they gradually acquire light lenticel dots and turn shiny brown with age. The bark is dark grayish brown and flakes off to reveal patches of reddish-brown inner bark.
Habitat: It most commonly grows in dry forests, thickets, fields, new forest plantations, and sandy and rocky sites. It can be found in moist habitats.

 

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Leaf

Fruit

 

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