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Garden Blog

It’s Flu Season—have you had your Vaccinium?

by Dawn W Todd, Intern

evergreen huckleberry

Sorry, sorry, I couldn’t help myself! I wanted to tell you a Christmas story, but I got carried away by plant lore (as usual).  I’ll tell you the story and then carry you along with me.  

My husband Howard wanted seeds for Christmas. He had come across a website that promised Vaccinium alaskaense, (Alaska blueberry) but he hadn’t had time to figure out how to order them. Well, that seemed pretty do-able. I went to the website and you should go there, too: http://www.alaskablues.net/Home .

Only I couldn’t figure out how to order the seeds, either, so I sent them an email. I got a reply very quickly; “Hi Dawn, send me your mailing address and I'll do all I can to get them to you. We haven't had a mail plane in for over a week, but if it shows up your seeds will be on it.”

A mail plane? They don’t know when it’s coming? Now that is remote. I wrote back with my order, and they wrote back saying the seeds were on their way and just to mail a check. Now that is right neighborly, and I hope they got my check.  The seeds arrived in time for Christmas and I gave some to Dr. Kruckeberg as well as Howard, so I will have the fun of working with the staff here to try to grow them while my husband tries at home. Double the fun!

So why the dreadful pun? We all know that good health relies in great part on good nutrition, and we have all heard about the many health benefits of blueberries. Well, blueberries are one of the many Vaccinium plants, some of them native. When I talk about health benefits, I really mean it: all of these are nutritious. But have you heard of the oxygen radical absorbtion capacity test? ORAC shows overall antioxidant activity. According to a study done at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, “Original research with fruits shows cultivated blueberries with a score of 24, which is higher than other commercial fruits included in the studies. Anything about 40 is considered very high.” They go on to say that the blue huckleberry has a score of 11, the dwarf blueberry is 85, the bog blueberry is 77, and…ta da! The Alaska blueberry is 76.

In the garden we have V. ovatum (evergreen huckleberry), V. parvifolium (red huckleberry), V. padifolium (Madeiran blueberry), V. vitis-ideae (lingonberry), V. glaucoalbum (grey-white blueberry), V. nummularia and V. ovalifolium (oval-leaf huckleberry), V. uliginosum (bog bilberry) and V. membranaceum (big huckleberry and other names). I have it on good authority that we also have some V. scoparium (grouse whortleberry).

V ovatum, V. parvifolium, V. ovalifolium, V. uliginosum and V. membranaceum are native to Washington. The others are not. There are hundreds of Vaccinium species and they live all over the world. Maybe one could live at your house, too.