One of the true joys of summer has arrived. Berry picking season is one the the reasons that Grand Rapids is a top Minnesota vacation spot and folks all around are slipping into the woods with an old ice cream tub and returning home with a bucket full of summer sweetness. The blueberry season is here so get your collection pail ready.
If you’re looking for a place to go picking this weekend, you need to begin with a berry scouting mission. Look for blueberries in bogs and thickets or in rocky, open areas. They like acidic soil and sunshine, and grow well in areas recently affected by fire. If you’re lucky you will run into a patch just waiting to be picked.
The blueberry is a shrub in the heath plant family, and then further classified into the Vaccinium plant genus which includes cranberries and huckleberries. White, bell-shaped blueberry flowers bloomed in June and were pollinated by insects that ensured another healthy berry crop: bees, ants, or the dreaded black fly. The blueberry itself is really a seed package containing hundreds of seeds (verses a huckleberry that has only 10 seeds per berry).
Take a close look at a blueberry before you pop it in your mouth. On one side, opposite of the side that was attached to the stem, it has a five point “crown” formed by the calyx lobes. The calyx are simply floral leaves that once surrounded the white blueberry flower. This is a distinguishing Vaccinium berry characteristic and helps indicate edible plants. If you find a blue-black berry without a crown don’t eat it. For example, the Clintonia, also called the Blue Bead Lily, has a shiny blue berry on a long green stalk. It looks appealing but it doesn’t have a crown and it isn’t edible.
Even if you don’t find the “jackpot” blueberry patch, you can enjoy nibbling on the one or two ripe berries you do find and plan a different hike for next weekend around the north woods of Grand Rapids. Or if you’re not into picking and more into eating, check out the Grand Rapids Farmer’s Market Wednesdays and Saturdays 8am-1pm.