by Sue Blakeman
(Vaccinium arboreum) is a small tree with big advantages
Its artfully twisted trunk, covered with greyish brown outer bark, displays a
pleasing mottled effect as thin strips peel off to reveal the smooth reddish
brown inner bark. Although the
trunk is somewhat contorted, sparkleberry trees can reach almost 30 feet height.
The airy branches arch crookedly, creating a rounded crown where
birds nest during the breeding season in its dense twisting branch system. Some
species known to nest here are northern cardinal, brown thrasher, northern
mockingbird, and blue jay. The
sparkleberry provides wildlife with reliable cover in all seasons, as it bears
its small, roundish leaves nearly year round.
In fall, it is among our most attractive trees, as the leaves shift to
pink to bright crimson to purple in hue.
(April - May) finds them literally covered with small, white, urn-shaped
flowers, borne in profuse sprays, reminiscent of lilies-of-the-valley.
Pollinators of several kinds, including butterflies, are attracted to the
flowers, which in turn invite insect eating birds to the area.
Once pollinated, the flowers produce 5-8 mm berries, which turn from
green to a shiny black, similar to other blueberries. Although sparkleberries may be made into jam or jelly, they
are not as flavourful to humans as they are to the many animals who seek them
for nourishment. Sparkleberries are a favorite food of the eastern bluebird,
which relies on berries for winter food, as well as other songbirds such as
catbirds, Florida blue jay, tufted titmouse, and the great crested flycatcher.
Bobwhite, turkey, and mammal species such as
fox, racoon, opossum, deer, hog, and bear also incorporate sparkleberries
in their diet.
the Sparkleberry is among our most resilient trees, it too can succumb to
degradation of our native plant communities through development, and changes in
land use. Although its requirements are modest, its importance to wildlife is
large, and care should be taken that it remains a viable resident of natural
systems. Recognition of its value as a landscape plant should help citizens
bring life to their landscape, and provide hours of enjoyment as they watch
wildlife harvest this small trees bounties in all seasons.
R.K., and J.W. Wooten. Trees,
Shrubs, and Woody Vines of Northern Florida and Adjacent Georgia and Alabama.
of Georgia Press: Athens, GA 1988
Alexander, et al. American
Wildlife & Plants: A Guide To Wildlife Food Habits.
Dover Publications: New York, N.Y. 1951
Gil. The Trees of Florida.
Pineapple Press: Sarasota, FL 1994
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