Sunday, April 11, 2021

Apopka gardeners can celebrate Plant of the Month: Sparkleberry


Sparkleberry flowers

Focus on Gardening: Plant of the Month

From Madeline Iyer, University of Florida (UF), Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences

For the green thumbs and garden-dreamers alike, every month we’ll highlight a UF / IFAS feature plant that deserves a spotlight in Florida-friendly gardening.

Sparkleberry

Sparkleberry flowers bloom from late winter to early spring. Eleanor Dietrich (CC BY-NC. 2.0)

Sparkleberry is a Florida-native tree and a close relative of blueberry, huckleberry, lingonberry, and cranberry. It is occasionally referred to as “farkleberry,” a name which likely began as a mispronunciation of sparkleberry.

As an understory tree, sparkleberry is a good fit for both large and small landscapes. Delicate flowers, glossy foliage, shiny berries, and interesting bark make it a tree with year-round interest. Sparkleberry is wildlife friendly, drought tolerant, wind resistant, and well adapted to Florida’s sandy soils, too!

Characteristics

Sparkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum) grows as a perennial shrub or small tree. It reaches a maximum height of 18-25 feet and can be pruned into a single- or multi-trunked form. It is native to the Southeast, ranging from USDA Hardiness Zones 6 down to 9b. In sites where it is planted as an ornamental, sparkleberry is found as far south as 10b.

The sparkling, shiny berries for which this plant is named appear in fall. James H. Miller & Ted Bodner, Southern Weed Science Society, Bugwood.org

Sparkleberry is usually deciduous, with glossy-green elliptical leaves, two inches in length. The bark is pale, but flakes off to show a reddish color underneath. In the southern-most areas of its range, sparkleberry is sometimes evergreen. In northern areas, gardeners can expect showy fall color in cooler years. When it loses its leaves, the twisted, angular trunk and limbs are as eye-catching as the foliage.

Fragrant, small, white flowers hang like bells from its twigs for two weeks in the spring. Green summer foliage and blue-black berries in the fall make sparkleberry a thing of beauty all year long. In late winter and early spring the flowers are a welcome source of food for pollinators. Berries feed birds and small mammals in the fall, too, making sparkleberry a landscape addition that welcomes wildlife.

Vaccinium arboreum fruits are edible to humans too, but not as tender or flavorful as the berries of its Vaccinium relatives. Historically, larger sparkleberry fruits were incorporated into jams and pies but today most gardeners leave the berries for the birds.

Planting and Maintenance

Sparkleberry’s twisting, reddish brown bark adds year-round interest to the landscape. Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

Sparkleberry prefers sandy, dry soils with a pH at or below 7. It will tolerate occasionally wet soils. After it is established, sparkleberry should require very little additional irrigation.As a native to Florida, sparkleberry is well adapted to our hot and humid climate. It grows in both full sun and partial shade. In the wild it grows as an understory tree and can be established below larger shade trees in home landscapes.

As with most plants that are labeled “large shrubs or small trees,” pruning is necessary to achieve a specific form. Without pruning, sparkleberry will grow into a tall, irregular shrub. If you prefer a single-trunked tree form, prune off shoots that compete with the main trunk.

Sparkleberry grown as a shrub. Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org

Aside from regular pruning, sparkleberry is a low-maintenance plant. As with all native plants, it will be subject to some light insect damage but is free from any serious pest or disease issues. This species also causes few to no allergies.

If you have questions about this or other native trees in your landscape, please contact us at your county Extension office.

To read the original article in full, see UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions.

Apopka UF/ IFAS Location

UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research & Education Center

2725 S. Binion Rd.
Apopka, FL 32703
Phone: (407)410-6961
Email: lfelter@ufl.edu
Hours: Every Tuesday 1pm – 4pm, excluding holidays.



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