Vaccinium (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Vaccinium L.

Protologue: Gen. Pl. ed. 5: 166 (1754).
Family: Ericaceae
Chromosome number: x= 12

Major species and synonyms

Vernacular names


  • blueberry, whortleberry, bilberry, cranberry, huckleberry (En, Am).

V. bracteatum:

  • sea bilberry (En)
  • Indonesia: rangkas (Bangka), perai, perangkas (Billiton)
  • Malaysia: kelempadang, inai batu, mata keli
  • Cambodia: pûëch chuu
  • Thailand: thingthuat, chana.

V. myrtoides:

  • Philippine blueberry (En)
  • Indonesia: kalupapa, tente in talun (Minahasa)
  • Philippines: alimani (Iloko), dungal (Bagobo), gatmo (Igorot).

Origin and geographic distribution

Vaccinium is a large genus with approximately 450 species worldwide; there are about 240 species in Malesia, more than half of which are restricted to New Guinea. Most species are tropical, belonging to montane forest, scrub or grassland vegetation. V. bracteatum is widely distributed in South-East Asia from Burma through Thailand and Indo-China to China and Japan and in Sumatra, Peninsular Malaysia and on islands between the latter two. V. myrtoides is restricted to the Philippines (Mindanao, Mindoro, Luzon) and Indonesia (Sulawesi, Moluccas).


Most Vaccinium species are edible, although only a few are known to produce superior palatable fruits in Malesia. The fruits can be eaten fresh but usually they are better liked when processed into jams, jellies and preserves. Most species grow in inaccessible places; this does not contribute to their popularity. For birds and other fruit-eating animals, Vaccinium berries are an important source of food in Malesia. The wood is very hard and that of several species is used for utensils and firewood. Young leaves of some species are used as a vegetable.

Production and international trade

There are no commercial plantations of blueberries in the region. They are minor fruits growing wild and only occasionally cultivated on a very small scale.


  • Shrubs or small trees, terrestrial or epiphytic.
  • Leaves evergreen, spirally arranged, usually coriaceous, usually with a distinct basal marginal gland on each side, entire or crenulate, mostly with a petiole.
  • Inflorescences racemose, axillary, sometimes reduced to solitary flowers; calyx tube cup-shaped, limb 4-5-lobed; corolla tubular, 4-5-lobed; stamens 8, 10, or 12; disk annular; ovary inferior, 4-5- or falsely 8-10-celled, style as long as corolla.
  • Fruit a berry, juicy and soft to hard and dry, crowned by the disk and the persistent calyx lobes.
  • Seeds few to numerous, small, ellipsoid, irregularly compressed.

V.bracteatum :

  • Shrub or terrestrial tree, up to 6 m tall.
  • Leaves lax, more or less elliptical, 3-8 cm × 1.5-3.5 cm, crenulate-serrate, petiole 2-4 mm long; young leaves in erect reddish-pink flushes.
  • Racemes many-flowered; flowers fragrant, all set in a row and facing down; pedicel 1-4 mm; calyx 2-3 mm long, lobes triangular; corolla slightly 5-angular, pink or white, tube 5-7 mm long, lobes recurved, 1 mm, pubescent.
  • Berry globose, 4 mm in diameter, reddish-blackish, pubescent at top.

Flowering and fruiting occurs year-round.

V. myrtoides :

  • Shrub or small tree, up to 2 m tall.
  • Leaves ovate to elliptic, 1-2.5 cm × 0.6-1.8 cm, often subimbricately arranged, entire, petiole up to 1.5 mm long.
  • Racemes laxly 4-12-flowered; pedicel up to 1.5 cm long; calyx 2.5 mm long, lobes triangular; corolla tube 2.5 mm, recurved lobes 1 mm long, red, pink to creamy-white, glabrous.
  • Berry globose, 4-5 mm in diameter, blue-black, glabrous.

Flowers and fruits year-round.

Well-known species in other parts of the world include the bilberry, blueberry or whortleberry (Vaccinium myrtillus L.) and the cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccus L.), both species native to many parts of Europe and northern Asia, and the cranberry also to North America. The fruits are popular but expensive since they have to be gathered in the wild; the cranberry is also grown commercially in certain moorland areas. More important commercially are the highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum L.), the lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium Aiton) and hybrids; they are grown in large fields, sometimes on specialized farms, in North America and Europe. It is possible that the temperate species are derived from tropical species. Little chilling is required to break bud dormancy in the highbush blueberry, and successful breeding of cultivars in Florida with very low chilling requirements has paved the way for trials with this crop in tropical highlands.


Vaccinium species grow both epiphytically and terrestrially in primary and secondary montane rain forest, in alpine scrub vegetation and grasslands up to elevations of 4400 m (New Guinea), rarely in coastal vegetations at sea-level. Generally they grow on acid, sandy or peaty soil, occasionally on limestone. Some species form pure stands or vegetation belts in the upper montane zone.

  • V. bracteatum occurs from the seashore up to 1830 m altitude, on sandy coasts or granite mountain tops, in moist places with acid soils.
  • V. myrtoides occurs on steep rocky, open and bare slopes, in mossy forest undergrowth, summit vegetation, open grassland, on sandy or volcanic soil, at altitudes between 1000-3200 m.


In South-East Asia, Vaccinium is not cultivated. The agronomy of the highbush blueberry and its hybrids is fairly well established and could be adapted to tropical conditions provided a clear annual pattern of flowering and fruiting emerges. Clonal propagation through cuttings, the relatively large fruit size, and simple forms of mechanical harvesting facilitate commercial production.

The agronomy of the cultivated cranberry in North America is of interest as it was probably the first fruit crop where - early this century - mechanization was introduced. Cranberries are grown in level moorlands, the fields being surrounded by dikes. At harvest the fields are inundated and floating harvesters with rotating tines "comb" the berries from the twigs. The water carries the berries to the drainage outlet.


The importance of the wild Vaccinium flora in South-East Asia lies in erosion protection and in furnishing feed for wild fauna rather than in fruit consumption by man. Selection and breeding might produce more worthwhile cultivars, but introduction and testing of low-chilling highbush blueberries may be a more fruitful short-term approach.


  • Corner, E.J.H., 1988. Wayside trees of Malaya. 3rd ed. Vol. 1. The Malayan Nature Society, Kuala Lumpur. pp. 253-254.
  • Galletta, G.J., 1975. Blueberries and cranberries. In: Janick, J. & Moore, J.N. (Editors): Advances in fruit breeding. Purdue University Press, West Lafayette, Indiana. pp. 154-196.
  • Sleumer, H., 1967. Ericaceae. Vaccinium L. In: van Steenis, C.G.G.J. (Editor): Flora Malesiana, Series 1. Vol. 6. pp. 746-878.


V.N. Villegas & P.C.M. Jansen