Saving Blueberries

Did you know the USDA has an official blueberry genebank? Plants are collected, grown and protected at a USDA Agricultural Research Service facility in Oregon.

| May 13, 2011

  • Blueberries are popular and versatile, but the berry would not be where it is today without the efforts of ARS researchers.
    Blueberries are popular and versatile, but the berry would not be where it is today without the efforts of ARS researchers.
    courtesy Stephen Ausmus/ Agricultural Research Service
  • Fruit cluster of Draper, a cultivar released by Michigan State University and named in honor of Arlen Draper, a long-time blueberry breeder wtih ARS in Beltsville, Maryland.
    Fruit cluster of Draper, a cultivar released by Michigan State University and named in honor of Arlen Draper, a long-time blueberry breeder wtih ARS in Beltsville, Maryland.
    courtesy Chad Finn/ Agricultural Research Service
  • Plant geneticist Mark Ehlenfeldt, left, and plant pathologist James Polashock examine blueberry plants to collect data on mummy berry fruit infection in order to evalutate resistance.
    Plant geneticist Mark Ehlenfeldt, left, and plant pathologist James Polashock examine blueberry plants to collect data on mummy berry fruit infection in order to evalutate resistance.
    courtesy Peggy Greb/ Agricultural Research Service
  • ARS researchers in Corvallis, Oregon, are developing and improving blueberries for the Pacific Northwest. Elliott blueberry plants, as seen here, are in full bloom.
    ARS researchers in Corvallis, Oregon, are developing and improving blueberries for the Pacific Northwest. Elliott blueberry plants, as seen here, are in full bloom.
    courtesy Chad Finn/ Agricultural Research Service
  • A close-up of blueberry flowers.
    A close-up of blueberry flowers.
    courtesy Chad Finn/ Agricultural Research Service
  • Horticulturist Donna Marshall measures blueberry firmness to determine the correlation between fruit firmness and susceptibility to fruit splitting.
    Horticulturist Donna Marshall measures blueberry firmness to determine the correlation between fruit firmness and susceptibility to fruit splitting.
    courtesy Peggy Greb/ Agricultural Research Service

  • Blueberries are popular and versatile, but the berry would not be where it is today without the efforts of ARS researchers.
  • Fruit cluster of Draper, a cultivar released by Michigan State University and named in honor of Arlen Draper, a long-time blueberry breeder wtih ARS in Beltsville, Maryland.
  • Plant geneticist Mark Ehlenfeldt, left, and plant pathologist James Polashock examine blueberry plants to collect data on mummy berry fruit infection in order to evalutate resistance.
  • ARS researchers in Corvallis, Oregon, are developing and improving blueberries for the Pacific Northwest. Elliott blueberry plants, as seen here, are in full bloom.
  • A close-up of blueberry flowers.
  • Horticulturist Donna Marshall measures blueberry firmness to determine the correlation between fruit firmness and susceptibility to fruit splitting.

Familiar blueberries and their lesser-known wild relatives are safeguarded by U.S.Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists and curators at America's official blueberry genebank. The plants, collected from throughout the United States and more than two dozen foreign countries, are growing at the USDA Agricultural Research Service NationalClonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, Oregon. 

The blueberries are maintained as outdoor plants, potted greenhouse and screenhouse specimens, tissue culture plantlets, or as seeds, according to research leader Kim E. Hummer.

The genebank's purpose is to ensure that these plants, and the diverse genepool that they represent, will be protected for future generations to grow, enjoy, study and improve. For example, plant breeders can use plants in the collection as parents for new and even better blueberries for farm or garden.

Blueberries and several other small berries are among the fruit, nut and specialty crops housed at the Corvallis repository, which in turn is part of a nationwide, ARS-managed network of plant genebanks.



Likely the most comprehensive of its kind in the United States, the blueberry collection nevertheless continues to expand, Hummer says. Some acquisitions, referred to as accessions, are donations from breeders. Others are acquired through collecting expeditions, which have taken plant explorers to Russia, China, Ecuador and Uruguay, among other places, as well as throughout the United States to find new blueberry plants for the repository.

The collection includes species of wild blueberries native to the Pacific Northwest that have pigmented flesh or pulp. Some breeders are trying to breed some of these species into the familiar highbush blueberry that has a white interior, Hummer says.





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