AURORA, Ore. – Gardeners who like to experiment with unique plants will want to keep an eye out in a few years for a blueberry tree created by Oregon State University.
Wei Qiang Yang, blueberry agent for the Oregon State University Extension Service, has tested a grafted blueberry "tree" that grows on a single stem on a research plot at OSU's North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora every year since 2009. Yang is collaborating with researchers who are testing other blueberry varieties grafted onto rootstocks at land-grant universities in California and Florida as part of a multi-state effort.
If results continue to show promise, the blueberry tree could be ready for release to nurseries in approximately three years for gardeners.
Yang intended to develop a blueberry plant that commercial growers could machine-harvest more efficiently. But gardeners could find the tree intriguing for different reasons.
"For gardeners, it's going to be easier to manage these plants," said Yang, a horticulture professor in OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences. "The tree will be much easier to prune. It's also adapted to a higher pH, so gardeners in most areas will not have to do anything to the soil, which is an advantage. Not to mention it's also drought-tolerant."
To make the grafts, Yang started with seeds from a wild-growing blueberry plant commonly known as sparkleberry, which originated in Texas, Oklahoma and Florida. In the wild, some plants grow on a single stem to heights of up to 10 feet. But their tiny berries are full of seeds and the fruit has a bad taste, Yang said. He then grafted three popular highbush blueberry varieties – Liberty, Aurora and Draper – onto the wild-growing plants. He wanted a blueberry plant that had a similar yield to its domestic cousins and had a good taste.
So far, yields of the grafted plants have compared favorably to their domesticated cousins, with the exception of Liberty. Taste has also compared well.
Though some people have tried grafting blueberry trees on a small-scale basis in the past, Yang said this is the first major collaborative research effort to graft a blueberry tree that is viable for commercial growers.
Yang receives funding for the research from the Oregon Blueberry Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Specialty Crops Research Initiative.
For more information, go to the website for OSU's NWREC.