Branching out

Branching out

DSC04185BY LINDA BAKER

A blueberry bush is a blueberry bush — except when it’s a blueberry tree. Horticulturists at Oregon State University are testing a novel scientific concept: a grafted blueberry tree aimed at making the blueberry-harvesting process more efficient, a boon in Oregon, which harvested about 70 million pounds in 2013. Growers typically use machine harvesters with catch plates to collect blueberries. But because bushes have multiple stems, about 15% to 25% of the blueberry harvest is lost, says Wei Qiang Yang, a horticulturist with the OSU Extension Service. “The plates can’t circle the branches very well,” he says. A single-stem blueberry tree may also have advantages for soil adaptation and weed management. Yang is working with the Oregon Blueberry Commission and the National University of Florida on a multiyear project to test the commercial potential — including yield and quality — of blueberry trees, which could be ready for release to nurseries in about five years. The pioneering process involved grafting three varieties — the Aurora, Draper and Liberty — onto wild blueberry trees, the first time a bush has been grafted to a tree for the purpose of commercial fruit production. “It’s very intriguing for a plant scientist,” Yang says.