Blueberries aren't the only tasty blue berries, and when it comes time to choose a berry bush for your garden, being familiar with your blue-berry options prevents you from getting lost in blue-berry confusion. Blueberries and huckleberries have their attractive, flavorful berries in common, but a few of the many species of shrubs commonly called huckleberries are actually closely related to blueberries and bear more than just a superficial resemblance. No huckleberry attains the lofty stature of the highbush blueberry, though, and some subtle differences between the huckleberry and blueberry fruits can help you to tell the difference between the species.
Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) is a woody perennial shrub that can reach heights of 6 to 12 feet. It gets its common name from its relatively large size compared with lowbush blueberries, which may be as small as 6 inches high. Some varieties of highbush blueberry, including "Blueray," "Jersey" and "Patriot," do best in the cooler climates of U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 7, but other varieties, such as "Cape Fear" and "Gulf Coast," can handle the heat in USDA zones 7 through 10.
Several species of shrubs native to the western United States are commonly called huckleberries. Like the highbush blueberry, these shrubs belong to the genus Vaccinium and are similar in appearance and culture to the blueberry species, although huckleberry bushes tend to be significantly smaller than highbush blueberries. Black huckleberry (Vaccinium membranaceum) grows to between 1 and 6 feet in height and produces berries that vary in color from dark purple-red to black. Blue huckleberry (Vaccinium deliciosum) grows to 2 feet in height and bears bright blue berries. Both black and blue huckleberries grow best in USDA zones 4 through 8.
Some species in the genus Gaylussacia are also commonly called huckleberries. These species are native to the eastern United States, and they are significantly smaller than the highbush blueberry. The eastern black huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata) has foliage and fruit similar to that of the blueberry, but it reaches heights of only 1 to 3 feet. Box huckleberry (Gaylussacia brachycera) is a low-growing shrub that grows only to about 18 inches high and may be as short as 4 inches; it gets its common name from its glossy leaves, which look somewhat like boxwood leaves. Eastern black huckleberry is hardy in USDA zones 3 through 8, and box huckleberry is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 6.
All species of eastern huckleberry, western huckleberry and highbush blueberry produce round fruit, and many species of huckleberry bear fruit that is similar in size and color to blueberries. Huckleberries tend to be darker than blueberries in general, however. The difference between the closely related Vaccinium huckleberries and blueberries is that the huckleberries produce single berries in the leaf axils on new growth, and highbush blueberries produce clusters of berries on year-old growth.