Vaccinium vs Gaylussacia

One of my major issues this summer has been fixing errors and figuring out unknowns in previous years’ data. I’m the first person that has looked at all of the data as a whole, and as each person that has worked on this project has entered their data in a slightly different way, it’s been a long and confusing job trying to put it all in the same format. As I mentioned in my last blog post, each year the students working on this project have figured out how to identify more and more of the most difficult plants. That means that part of my job has been trying to use the information we know now to try to go back and figure out the identity of plants that previous years’ students were stumped by.

So far, the most difficult plants to retroactively identify have been plants in the Ericaceae family, specifically the Vaccinium and Gaylussacia genera. We have four of them in the College Woods: Vaccinium pallidum (Blueberry), Vaccinium stamenium (Deerberry), Gaylussacia frondosa (Blue Huckleberry), and Gaylussacia baccata (Black Huckleberry). When they’re not flowering or fruiting, the major ways to tell them apart are through slight differences in the color of the stems and whether or not they have glands on their leaves. When previous students took pictures of the plants, sometimes I can tell which species it is by the color of the stem, but usually the pictures aren’t close enough to see whether or not the plants have glands. Usually you need a magnifying glass to see the glands. I’ve been reading through the Flora of Virginia to see if there are any other major identifying features we’ve missed, but so far nothing has come up!

This is a mature Blue Huckleberry (Gaylussacia frondosa) fruit sitting on my field notes. You can tell they're related to blueberries by how similar the fruits look.

This is a mature Blue Huckleberry (Gaylussacia frondosa) fruit sitting on my field notes. You can tell they’re related to blueberries by how similar the fruits look.

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