Botanical Name: Vaccinium arboreum
Common Name: Sparkleberry, Farkleberry, Huckleberry, Tree Sparkleberry, Winter Huckleberry
Description: This is another species of Florida’s native blueberry shrubs. However, its blueberries have a bland and bitter taste if eaten raw. They are great made into pies and jellies. So grow this shrub for its value as an ornamental shrub for the wildlife rather than for eating the berries straight off the bush.
Sparkleberry is a flowering shrub to small tree, 15-20′ tall x 5-10′ wide. It is the tallest of the blueberry species. Its native habitat is in dry sites. xeric hammocks, dry mesic hardwoods, upper edges of floodplains, overgrown flatwoods, coastal dunes, sandhill, scrubby sandhill. Plant it in a sun, part sun, or part shade area of your garden in moist to dry, well drained, sandy soil that is acidic. Is semi-evergreen to deciduous in North Central and Northeast Florida. Has a moderate to slow growth rate. Is drought tolerant once established. Can be planted in your rain garden, but doesn’t like extended flooding.
It is the larval host for the Striped hairstreak and Henry’s elfin butterflies. In spring, its many small but fragrant flowers attract a variety of pollinators, especially native bees. Berries appear in late summer and may remain on the plant well into winter, providing food for birds and other wildlife. The shrub provides cover for the smaller critters.
The delicate white flowers are five-lobed, bell-shaped and cupped in a pale green calyx. They are born in clusters on elongated racemes. Leaves are alternately arranged and elliptic to ovate with entire or finely serrated margins. A central vein extends beyond the leaf’s rounded apex. Leaf surface is dark and glossy, while the underside is lighter in color and faintly pubescent. Fall leaves may turn pinkish or purplish. The trunk and branches are often twisted. They appear mottled as the gray outer bark peels off to expose the reddish-brown inner bark. Fruit is a green berry that turns purplish-black when ripe.
Historically, the plant has several cultural and medicinal uses, including tool handles from the wood, a remedy for dysentery from the berry juice, and a sore throat treatment made from an extract of the leaves.
Not salt tolerant of inundation by salty or brackish water. Some tolerance to salty wind but not direct salt spray.
This plant in 3-gallon containers is 1.5 – 3′ tall.
Plant Lore: The species epithet arboreum is from the Latin arboreus, meaning “tree” or “resembling a tree.” The common name Sparkleberry is thought to be a reference to the plant’s shiny fruit. Another common name, Farkleberry, is likely a misquote or misspelling of Sparkleberry.
Florida Hardiness Zones 8 – 10a