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US: New blueberry blends best of north and south

What could be more simple and refreshing than a fresh Jersey blueberry in the summertime? How about one that blends the germplasms of Vaccinium constablaei and the southern rabbiteye, mixed with some northern highbush?

It sounded good to the federal government, which recently awarded a patent for the new berry, called Nocturne, to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service.

Nocturne is the product of more than two decades of testing and evaluating at the service's Philip E. Marucci Center for Blueberry and Cranberry Research and Extension in Chatsworth.

Ehlenfeldt said the goal for the berry that would be named Nocturne – for most of the past 20 years, it's been known as U.S. 1056 – has been to create a fruit that has the winter hardiness of blueberries grown in the northern United States with the vigorous growth of southern blueberries.

While that might not sound too complicated, it's a task that has been tried unsuccessfully in the past. Two previous hybrids that got as far as being named, "Snowflake" out of the University of Florida and "Little Giant" by the USDA, failed to gain traction because of susceptibility to disease and uncertain growth.

Thus, it's not surprising that Nocturne took significantly longer to develop than the 12 to 15 years it usually takes to develop a new blueberry variety, or "cultivar," Ehlenfeldt said.

It was developed using conventional breeding techniques, he said. There was no genetic modification involved, he said.

Nocturne is the offspring of the northern highbush, which grows in this part of the country, with the fast-growing and productive rabbiteye. A key was adding V. constablaei, a species found in the high altitudes of Georgia, western North Carolina and Tennessee and known for its winter hardiness.

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