Vaccinium arboreum Marshall
Mesic pine savannas.
Late Apr–Jun ; Sep–Oct . Not seen in Shaken Creek Preserve by the senior author. Specimens seen in the vicinity: Sandy Run [RMK]: Taggart SARU 219 (WNC!). [= RAB, FNA, Weakley]
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Tree sparkleberry grows from central Florida westward to central
Oklahoma, southeastern Missouri, southeastern Kansas, and the Edwards
Plateau of Texas [6,22,38]. It extends northward to southern Illinois,
southern Indiana, and Virginia [22,49]. Tree sparkleberry is rare and
local in Kentucky, Virginia, Illinois, and Indiana . Uttal  has
reported that it occurs in parts of Mexico and the West Indies. The
variety glaucescens grows from Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma, northward
to Kentucky, Missouri, and Illinois .
Occurrence in North America
MO NC OK SC TN TX VA MEXICO
Tree sparkleberry grows as a large, much-branched, upright shrub or
small tree [13,34,48]. Individuals may grow as tall plants with rounded
crowns, or as flat-topped shrubs with crooked branches . Shrubby
plants commonly reach only 7 to 10 feet (2-3 m) in height [38,45].
However, on favorable sites, plants may grow to 33 feet (10 m) with a
d.b.h. of up to 14 inches (35 cm) [38,45]. Record trees have been
measured at 64 feet (19 m) in height with circumferences of up to 116
inches (45.9 cm) . Tree sparkleberry is the only member of the
Vaccinium genus to reach tree size . Shrubby plants commonly form
loose thickets .
The outer bark is gray to grayish-brown, thin, and smooth, with narrow
ridges . The slender, rigid twigs are reddish-brown to
reddish-green or gray, and glaucous, glabrous, or glandular-pubescent
[38,44,45]. Stem morphology has been reported in detail . Leaves
of tree sparkleberry are variable in size, shape, and persistence .
Plants tend to be deciduous in the north but evergreen in the southern
part of the species' range [13,48]. The simple, alternate leaves are
coriaceous, glabrous, and lustrous above [38,45]. The lower surface is
glaucous, duller green, and often glandular-pubescent [45,48]. Leaves
are obovate to elliptic, approximately 1 to 3 inches (3-8 cm) in length
with entire or obscurely denticulate margins [44,48].
The showy, white to pinkish flowers of tree sparkleberry grow in
abundance [44,48]. The perfect flowers are borne in leafy-bracted
racemes or panicles that average 0.8 to 2.7 inches (2-7 cm) in length
[13,48]. Inflorescences typically occur on second year growth .
Palser  has examined floral morphology in detail. Fruit is a black,
lustrous, globose berry 0.2 to 0.4 inch (5-9 mm) in diameter [34,45,48].
Berries are sweet but dry, hard, and mealy [2,48]. The fruit typically
persists well into the winter months [44,48]. Each berry contains 8 to
10 stony, shiny, black to golden-brown seeds [2,38,48,52]. The
variously-shaped, deeply pitted seeds average 0.08 inch (2 mm) in length
The variety glaucescens is distinguished by a larger inflorescence and
glaucescent leaves .
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Tree sparkleberry grows on sand dunes, hammocks, granitic outcrops, dry
sterile hillsides, in rocky woods, abandoned fields, and meadows
[37,38,41,45,49]. It also occurs on a variety of moist sites such as in
wet bottomlands and along creek banks [37,41,45]. Tree sparkleberry is
common throughout much of the Coastal Plain and in the Piedmont .
In the southern Appalachians, plants generally grow below 2,591 feet
(790 m) in elevation .
Tree sparkleberry grows in many plant communities including mixed
swamps, cypress heads or domes, bayheads, and sand hills [19,28,29,30].
It also occurs in many xeric mixed pine-hardwood forests, pine
flatwoods, post oak savanna, and sand-pine scrub [19,37,45]. Common
overstory dominants include longleaf pine (Pinus palustris), loblolly
pine (P. taeda), slash pine (P. elliottii), shortleaf pine (P.
echinata), turkey oak (Quercus laevis), live oak (Q. virginana),
blackjack oak, hickory, black swamp tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica), and
sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) [5,7,9,12,26,36,40]. Toward the
northern portion of its range in Missouri and Illinois, tree
sparkleberry may be an important mid-canopy species in eastern redcedar
(Juniperus virginiana) or eastern redcedar-post oak (Quercus stellata)
Understory associates: Common understory associates in longleaf pine
and longleaf-slash pine communities include deerberry (Vaccinium
stamineum), flameleaf sumac (Rhus copallina), poison-ivy (Toxicodendron
radicans), southern bayberry (Myrica cerifera), bluejack oak (Quercus
incana), gum bumelia (Bumelia languginosa), yaupon (Ilex vomitoria), and
muscadine grape (Vitis rotundifolia) [5,24,39]. Flowering dogwood
(Cornus florida), possumhaw (Ilex decidua), yaupon, saw greenbriar
(Smilax bona-nox), common greenbrier (S. rotundifolia), rusty blackhaw
(Viburnum rufidulum), muscadine grape, and various oaks are common
components of loblolly-shortleaf pine forests [4,7,40]. Other common
associates include hawthorne (Crataegus spp.), common persimmon
(Diospyros virginiana), sweet bay (Magnolia grandiflora), red bay
(Persea borbonia), hackberry (Celtis spp.), water oak (Quercus nigra),
and coast laurel oak (Q. laurifolia) [9,14,37].
Habitat: Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):
More info for the terms: hardwood, swamp
23 Eastern hemlock
40 Post oak - blackjack oak
51 White pine - chestnut oak
53 White oak
69 Sand pine
70 Longleaf pine
71 Longleaf pine - scrub oak
73 Southern redcedar
75 Shortleaf pine
76 Shortleaf pine - oak
78 Virginia pine - oak
79 Virginia pine
80 Loblolly pine - shortleaf pine
81 Loblolly pine
82 Loblolly pine - hardwood
83 Longleaf pine - slash pine
84 Slash pine
85 Slash pine - hardwood
89 Live oak
91 Swamp chestnut oak - cherrybark oak
92 Sweetgum - willow oak
93 Sugarberry - American elm - green ash
104 Sweetbay - swamp tupelo - redbay
111 South Florida slash pine
Key Plant Community Associations
type classification. Blackjack oak (Quercus marilandica) and hickory
(Carya spp.) codominate these often infertile sites.
Area Classification Authority
e OK, n AR southern pine cts Silker 1971
This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):
FRES12 Longleaf - slash pine
FRES13 Loblolly - shortleaf pine
FRES14 Oak - pine
FRES15 Oak - hickory
Habitat: Plant Associations
This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):
K074 Bluestem prairie
K082 Mosaic of K074 and K100
K084 Cross Timbers
K090 Live oak - sea oats
K091 Cypress savanna
K100 Oak - hickory forest
K111 Oak - hickory - pine forest
K112 Southern mixed forest
K113 Southern floodplain forest
K115 Sand pine scrub
K116 Subtropical pine forest
Flower-Visiting Insects of Farkleberry in Illinois
(beetle activity is unspecified; this observation is from MacRae; information is very limited)
Buprestidae: Anthaxia flavimana (McR)
Fire Management Considerations
Wildlife management: Prescribed fire can be an effective means of
managing tree sparkleberry thickets for wildlife habitat in some areas
. Prescribed fire can promote livestock forage and deer browse 
and may have some potential for increasing fruit production . Deer
utilization of tree sparkleberry before and after a prescribed fire in
Texas was as follows :
1958 1959 1960 1958 1959 1960
(before fire) (after fire)
6 17 11 4 57 18
However, researchers caution that excessive burning for wildlife can
result in loss of overstory and midstory hardwoods .
Prescribed fire: Managers frequently spray herbicides on southern pine
forests and allow 2 years for the release of native bunchgrasses .
Bunchgrass development provides a uniform fuel for subsequent prescribed
fires. Backfires can then be used to kill "low quality" hardwoods such
as tree sparkleberry . However, researchers note that blackjack
oak-hickory-tree sparkleberry associations commonly occur on poor sites
. Limited growth potential on these sites may make prescribed
burning for hardwood control uneconomical .
Nutrient content: Nutrient content of tree sparkleberry browse may be
altered by burning. [See Food Value].
Plant Response to Fire
The fire response of tree sparkleberry has not been well documented.
Average height was reduced by a winter fire near Nacogdoches, Texas, but
the average number of stems per plant increased . Response was as
winter burn - March 1974 control
1973 1975 1973 1975
avg. ht. (cm) 243 214 288 317
avg. # stems/
plant 1.15 1.69 1.07 1.00
Many ericaceous shrubs sprout from the root crown or rhizomes after
aboveground vegetation is destroyed by fire. The postfire increase in
stems per plant suggests that sprouting may sometimes occur. However,
sprouting in tree sparkleberry has not been discussed in the available
Reestablishment presumably occurs through seedling establishment where
plants are killed by fire. Many birds and mammals transport seed from
adjacent unburned areas.
Immediate Effect of Fire
Tree sparkleberry can be girdled and killed by fire . Following a
prescribed burn near Nacogdoches, Texas, mortality of important
understory species, including tree sparkleberry, ranged from 11 to 31
Tree sparkleberry occurs in many pine flatwood and sand pine scrub
communities that are essentially maintained by fire . During recent
years, fire suppression has contributed to the decline of these
communities . Many of these communities are now being replaced by
southern mixed hardwood forests, bayheads, and swamps . However,
tree sparkleberry also occurs in these communities and often assumes
greater relative prominence in areas with longer fire-free intervals.
In longleaf pine-shortleaf pine communities, tree sparkleberry reaches
greatest abundance on less frequently burned sites .
Individuals on relatively nonflammable microsites, such as in moist
areas or on rocky sites lacking fuels, may be somewhat protected from
the effects of fire. Vegetative regeneration is not known to occur in
this species, but many Vacciniums are capable of sprouting after
aboveground foliage is damaged by fire. Tree sparkleberry presumably
reoccupies a site through bird- and mammal- dispersed seed.
More info for the terms: climax, hardwood, mesic, tree
Tree sparkleberry grows in many successional stages in pine-oak-hickory
and evergreen oak-hardwood forests of Florida . It is an important
component of "subclimax" communities in loblolly pine-shortleaf pine
stands  and grows in successional cypress dome and flatwood
communities . Tree sparkleberry invades mesic sites in longleaf
pine-turkey oak sandhill communities of Florida . It also assumes
prominence in some "young" forest-grassland communities of eastern Texas
Tree sparkleberry grows in all successional phases of many pine-hardwood
communities . It occurs as an understory dominant with deerberry,
flameleaf sumac, poison-ivy, southern bayberry, and American
beauty-berry (Callicarpa americana) on "less frequently burned" sites in
longleaf pine-shortleaf pine forests . Where fires occur at frequent
intervals, bluejack oak, post oak, blackjack oak, sweetgum, flowering
dogwood, and loblolly pine are more common .
Tree sparkleberry is a component of seasonally flooded bayheads and
southern mixed hardwood swamps which are considered climax communities
. It also grows in southern mixed hardwood forests which represent
the dominant climax upland vegetation over most of the southeastern
Coastal Plain . Tree sparkleberry occurs in dry, old growth upland
stands with such species as bluejack oak, loblolly pine, longleaf pine,
sweetgum, and gum bumelia .
Tree sparkleberry normally fruits after attaining "the height of a large
shrub or tall tree" . Fruit production is apparently somewhat
erratic. In some years fruit production is prolific, but in other
years, plants produce no fruit . Stephens  reported that even
plants that flower in abundance commonly produce only sparse amounts of
fruit. Various birds and mammals serve as dispersal agents. Seedling
establishment presumably occurs when conditions are favorable.
Germination characteristics are unknown.
Although many ericaceous shrubs sprout after aboveground foliage is
damaged or destroyed, sprouting has apparently not been documented in
Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
Life History and Behavior
More info for the term: association
Tree sparkleberry flowers in late spring or summer. Some plants flower
much earlier than others at the same geographic location . Fruit
ripens over a relatively long period , with ovules maturing in
approximately 200 days . Fruit commonly persists into the winter
months . Flowering and fruiting by geographic location is as
Location Flowering Fruiting Authority
SC, NC late April-June Sept.-Oct. Radford and other 1968
FL March-April Aug.-Oct. Ward 1974
(infreq. in Feb., July)
Great Plains May-June Aug.-Sept. Great Plains Flora
c Great Plains late May Sept.-Oct. Stephens 1973
VA April-May June-Nov. Uttal 1987
se U.S. March-July ---- Duncan and Duncan 1988
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Fruit production: Fruit production is highly variable in tree
sparkleberry. Yields are generally greater in older burned stands than
in young open stands . Plants in pine plantations may not bear
fruit . [See Fire Management Considerations].
Grazing: Tree sparkleberry apparently decreases in response to heavy
livestock grazing. Cover by grazing intensity was as follows in an
eastern Louisiana study :
light medium heavy
grazed ungrazed grazed ungrazed grazed ungrazed
control control control
.15 .32 .13 .14 .01 .00
Chemical control: Tree sparkleberry is resistant to aerially applied
herbicides . Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) exhibit variable
susceptibility to herbicides such as 2,4-D, 2,4,5-T, glyphosate,
karbutilate, and picloram .
Drought resistance: Although reportedly resistant to drought ,
plants occasionally succumb during extreme dry periods .
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Other uses and values
Tree sparkleberry bark was formerly used in tanning leathers .
Extracts obtained from roots were traditionally used to treat diarrhea
. Unlike the fruit of most Vacciniums, the berries of tree
sparkleberry are inedible to humans .
Tree sparkleberry flowers abundantly and is "very ornamental" .
Flowers are a good source of nectar for foraging honey bees . Tree
sparkleberry may have potential value for developing commercial
fruit-producing strains of blueberries . Highbush blueberry
(Vaccinium corymbosum) can be grafted onto the rootstock of tree
sparkleberry. The resulting cultivars are well suited to droughty
upland sites with soils with a relatively high pH .
Stephens  reported that most birds rarely nest in tree sparkleberry
and typically seek out denser vegetation. However, Thackston and others
 noted that shrubby thickets of tree sparkleberry form favored
activity centers for transplanted ruffed grouse in northern Georgia.
Nutrient content of tree sparkleberry browse varies by season and burn
history of a particular site . Food values are as follows :
Date burn nutrient content (%) at 15% moisture level
sampled history %air dry protein fat fiber N-free ash phos- Ca
(#burns weight extract phoric
spring none 26.4 9.75 3.93 25.46 40.47 5.39 0.23 0.39
spring 1 22.9 13.25 7.85 13.78 47.37 2.75 0.37 0.32
summer none 37.8 6.65 4.45 22.46 48.19 3.24 0.15 0.87
summer 1 32.0 7.50 4.13 17.01 53.52 2.84 0.18 0.52
summer 2 34.6 7.17 -- -- -- -- 0.17 -
summer 3 22.9 11.13 -- -- -- -- 0.32 -
fall none 41.0 6.64 4.66 21.27 48.43 4.00 0.12 1.11
fall 1 45.5 6.29 4.80 20.73 49.75 3.42 0.14 0.79
winter none 48.2 5.31 4.51 26.15 45.60 3.44 0.14 1.01
winter 1 42.9 6.63 4.07 22.19 47.94 4.16 0.20 0.91
winter 2 49.3 5.51 4.07 23.85 48.38 3.18 0.14 0.78
winter 3 44.2 6.35 2.96 21.88 50.44 3.38 0.15 0.61
Importance to Livestock and Wildlife
Browse: White-tailed deer browse tree sparkleberry in many areas
[15,21]. It is considered an important summer deer food in parts of
Georgia . Many species of hares and rabbits also feed on the leaves
and twigs of species within this genus .
Fruit and flowers: A wide variety of birds and mammals readily feed on
the fruit of tree sparkleberry [38,48]. Fruits and flowers provide
spring and summer food for the bobwhite quail . Black bear,
chipmunks, and many species of birds, including the American robin,
ruffed grouse, and tanagers, feed on the fruit of Vacciniums .
Flowers are attractive to various bees .
Wood Products Value
The wood of tree sparkleberry is brown to reddish-brown, fine-grained,
tough and hard [38,48,52]. Wood weighs an average of 48 pounds per
cubic foot (112 kg/cu m) . It was formerly used to make various
tool handles and craft items [48,52].
Vaccinium arboreum (Sparkleberry or Farkleberry) is a species of Vaccinium native to the southeastern United States, from southern Virginia west to southeastern Nebraska, south to Florida and eastern Texas, and north to Illinois.
Vaccinium arboreum [ar-bor-E-um] is a shrub (rarely a small tree) growing to 3–5 m (rarely 9 m) tall. The leaves are evergreen in the south of the range, but deciduous further north where winters are colder; they are oval-elliptic with an acute apex, 3–7 cm long and 2–4 cm broad, with a smooth or very finely toothed margin. Sparkleberry grows on sand dunes, hammocks, dry hillsides, meadows, and in rocky woods. It also grows on a variety of moist sites such as wet bottomlands and along creek banks.
The flowers are white, bell-shaped, and 3–4 mm in diameter with a five-lobed corolla, produced in racemes up to 5 cm long. The fruit is a round dry berry about 6 mm in diameter, green at first, black when ripe, edible but bitter and tough.
- USDA; Native Distribution - V. arboreum . accessed 11.10.2010
Names and Taxonomy
The currently accepted scientific name of tree sparkleberry is Vaccinium
arboreum Marshall . Kartesz and Kartesz  recognize the
Vaccinium arboreum var. arboreum
Vaccinium arboreum var. glaucescens (Greene) Sarg.
Still, many authorities do not delineate varieties of tree sparkleberry.
Tree sparkleberry is the sole North American representative of the
section Batodendron (Nutt.) A. Gray. L. T. within the family Ericaceae
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