‘Prince’ Rabbiteye Blueberry

Authors:
Stephen J. Stringer U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Thad Cochran Southern Horticulture Laboratory, 810 Highway 26 W., Poplarville, MS 39470

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James M. Spiers U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Thad Cochran Southern Horticulture Laboratory, 810 Highway 26 W., Poplarville, MS 39470

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Donna A. Marshall U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Thad Cochran Southern Horticulture Laboratory, 810 Highway 26 W., Poplarville, MS 39470

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Arlen D. Draper U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Thad Cochran Southern Horticulture Laboratory, 810 Highway 26 W., Poplarville, MS 39470

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The rabbiteye blueberry is the predominant type of blueberry currently being grown commercially in the southeastern United States. In the Gulf Coast region of the southeast, growers require earlier ripening blueberry cultivars adapted to the coastal environment that will allow for competition in the early fresh market and for optimum profits. Potential profits from berries sold in the fresh market greatly exceed those from processing berries; however, producers assume risk of periodic late spring freeze events that may result in injury to flowers and developing fruit. The number of early-ripening rabbiteye blueberry cultivars is limited with ‘Climax’, ‘Premier’, and ‘Brightwell’ (in advancing flowering/ripening order) being among current industry standards. Cropping and plant growth of ‘Climax’ and ‘Premier’ are variable in the southeastern United States (Spiers, 1978) and elsewhere. New consistently productive and early-ripening rabbiteye blueberry cultivars with high vigor and good fruit quality are needed to sustain the early fresh-market blueberry industry in the region.

‘Prince’ is a new rabbitteye blueberry (Vaccinium asheii Reade = V. virgatum Aiton) released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS). ‘Prince’ is an early-ripening rabbiteye blueberry possessing favorable attributes, including good fruit quality combined with high yield potential and a highly vigorous growth habit when compared with the early ripening cultivars Climax and Premier (Brightwell and Draper, 1975). Plants of ‘Prince’ flower and ripen 4 to 6 d earlier than ‘Climax’ in southern Mississippi, with ripening occurring well within the lucrative U.S. early fresh-market window. Berries of ‘Prince’ are medium-sized and have excellent firmness, dry scars, and good flavor.

Origin

‘Prince’ was selected in 1996 at the USDA-ARS Southern Horticulture Laboratory in Poplarville, MS, from a cross of MS 598 × FL 80-11 and was tested as MS 706. The pedigree of ‘Prince’ is depicted in Figure 1. MS 706 was tested in a planting at Stone County and McNeil, MS, beginning in 2000.

Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.

Pedigree of ‘Prince’.

Citation: HortScience horts 45, 1; 10.21273/HORTSCI.45.1.144

Description and Performance

Plant and berry attributes of early-ripening rabbiteye blueberry cultivars were evaluated over 7 years from 2003 to 2009 at Stone County, MS, near the DeSoto National Forest in southeastern Mississippi from three plant replicates for each cultivar. Plants were grown in an acidic (pH 5.2) soil amended with 200 m3 pine bark/ha using recommended production practices. Table 1 depicts plant and berry attributes of ‘Prince’, ‘Brightwell’, and ‘Climax’. Subjective ratings of yield and plant vigor of ‘Prince’ plants were consistently equal to or greater than either ‘Climax’ or ‘Brightwell’. Figure 2 illustrates the vigorous cane growth, large berry clusters, and excellent yield potential of ‘Prince’.

Table 1.

Subjective ratings of fruit and plant characteristics of ‘Prince’ and the standard rabbiteye cultivars Brightwell and Climax over a 7-year period (2003 through 2009) at Stone County, MS.z

Table 1.
Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.

‘Prince’ blueberry cultivar.

Citation: HortScience horts 45, 1; 10.21273/HORTSCI.45.1.144

Knowledge of flowering and ripening times is an important consideration for southeastern U.S. blueberry growers, especially those considering early flowering and ripening rabbiteye blueberries (Spiers, 1978). In southern Mississippi, early flowering times predispose flowers and developing fruit to freeze injury. Plants that bloom after mid-March are more likely to escape such late spring frost injury. The average time of 50% flowering for ‘Prince’ was 3 and 14 d earlier, respectively, than ‘Climax’ and ‘Brightwell’ (Table 1). However, observations showed a tendency for ‘Prince’ to have a relatively extended time of flowering and subsequent moderate fruit set after two late spring freeze events (data not shown). Thus, the early flowering habit of ‘Prince’ suggests that frost protection may be necessary. Time of 50% ripening of ‘Prince’ berries was 4 d and 12 d earlier, respectively, for these same comparison cultivars, which is desirable for the early fresh market.

Both empirical laboratory data and subjective rating scales are often used to describe blueberry plant and berry quality attributes, including productivity and vigor and berry color, scar size, and flavor (Clark et al., 1996; Ehlenfeldt and Finn, 2007; Gupton et al., 1994; NeSmith et al., 2005). Rating scores for both productivity and plant vigor were highest for ‘Prince’. Color of all cultivars was commercially acceptable, but berries of ‘Prince’ were slightly darker than those of both ‘Brightwell’ and ‘Climax’. Flavor of ‘Prince’ was sweet and subacid, and berries of all cultivars had good flavor when fully ripe. Berry scars were commercially acceptable for all cultivars.

Laboratory measurements of several berry quality attributes, including average berry weight, berry firmness, pH, and percent soluble solids, were made from three replicate berry samples each year (2006 to 2008) and titratable acidity was measured in 2007; data were pooled across years (Table 2). All calculations were made using SAS System software Version 9.1.2 (SAS Institute, 2004). Size of ‘Prince’ berries (measured from 30 berries of each cultivar) was significantly less than ‘Brightwell’ but similar to ‘Climax’. Berry firmness measurements were obtained from 20 berry samples run on a Firmtech II (BioWorks Corp., Stillwater, OK), an apparatus that measures firmness in terms of the rate (in g·mm−1) at which force increases as berries are squeezed and deflected. No differences in berry firmness were detected among cultivars. Tendencies of berry splitting were measured in 2007–2008 by soaking 30 to 50 fully ripe berry samples in distilled water 24 h and counting the number of split berries (Marshall et al., 2007). Results indicated that ‘Prince’ had a greater tendency for splitting in the laboratory than either ‘Climax’ or ‘Brightwell’. Moderate rain-related physiological splitting of ‘Prince’ berries has also been observed in the field in two seasons (data not shown). Soluble solids content, pH, and titratable acidity were determined from juice extracted from a puree of a 40-g berry sample placed into a commercial Waring® blender (Dynamics Corp. of America, Hartford, CT) and strained through cheesecloth. A handheld temperature-compensating refractometer (Leica Microsystems AR 200, Wetzlar, Germany) was used to determine the soluble solids concentration. Juice pH of ‘Prince’ was significantly lower than either ‘Brightwell’ or ‘Climax’ and soluble solids content was significantly higher than either cultivar. Titratable acidity (TA, expressed as citric acid) was measured in 2007 only, and results suggested that TA of ‘Prince’ was intermediate between the two comparison cultivars.

Table 2.

Laboratory evaluations of berry quality attributes of ‘Prince’ and the rabbiteye standard cultivars Brightwell and Climax over a 3-year period (2006 to 2008) at Stone County, MS.

Table 2.

Like with most rabbiteye blueberry cultivars, ‘Prince’ should be planted with other early-flowering rabbiteye blueberries to facilitate pollination and fruit set. Suitable choices may include ‘Savory’, ‘Climax’, or ‘Premier’. ‘Brightwell’ and ‘Vernon’ may be additional but less suitable choices because their flowering dates are usually later.

‘Prince’ propagates readily from both softwood cuttings taken from new growth in late spring or flushes of new growth in late summer as well as from hardwood cuttings taken in the winter and grows vigorously in the nursery. ‘Prince’ has shown excellent survival in fields in southern Mississippi, and no diseases have occurred.

Availability

‘Prince’ is a public domain blueberry cultivar and a limited supply of rooted cuttings, cutting wood, and tissue-cultured plants is available to certified nurserymen. Written requests for plant materials should be sent to Dr. Stephen Stringer, USDA-ARS Southern Horticulture Laboratory, P.O. Box 287, Poplarville, MS 39470. Genetic materials of this release are deposited in the National Plant Germplasm Repository at Corvallis, OR, where it is available for research purposes and commercial development.

Literature Cited

  • Brightwell, W.T. & Draper, A.D. 1975 The ‘Blue-belle’ and ‘Climax’ rabbiteye blueberries FruitVar. J. 29 44

  • Clark, J.R. , Moore, J.N. & Draper, A.D. 1996 ‘Ozarkblue’ southern highbush blueberry HortScience 31 1043 1045

  • Ehlenfeldt, M.K. & Finn, C.E. 2007 G-435 and ARS 96-138, pink-fruited blueberry selections HortScience 42 172 173

  • Gupton, C.L. , Spiers, J.M. & Draper, A.D. 1994 ‘Cooper’ and ‘Gulfcoast’ southern highbush blueberry HortScience 29 923 924

  • Marshall, D.A. , Spiers, J.M. , Stringer, S.J. & Curry, K.J. 2007 Laboratory method to estimate rain-induced splitting in cultivated blueberries HortScience 42 1551 1553

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  • NeSmith, D.S. , Draper, A.D. & Spiers, J.M. 2005 ‘Vernon’ southern rabbiteye blueberry HortScience 40 2200 2201

  • SAS Institute 2004 SAS system software. Version 9.1.2 SAS Institute Cary, NC

  • Spiers, J.M. 1978 Effect of stage of bud development on cold injury in rabbiteye blueberry J. Amer. Soc. Hort. Sci. 103 452 455

  • Brightwell, W.T. & Draper, A.D. 1975 The ‘Blue-belle’ and ‘Climax’ rabbiteye blueberries FruitVar. J. 29 44

  • Clark, J.R. , Moore, J.N. & Draper, A.D. 1996 ‘Ozarkblue’ southern highbush blueberry HortScience 31 1043 1045

  • Ehlenfeldt, M.K. & Finn, C.E. 2007 G-435 and ARS 96-138, pink-fruited blueberry selections HortScience 42 172 173

  • Gupton, C.L. , Spiers, J.M. & Draper, A.D. 1994 ‘Cooper’ and ‘Gulfcoast’ southern highbush blueberry HortScience 29 923 924

  • Marshall, D.A. , Spiers, J.M. , Stringer, S.J. & Curry, K.J. 2007 Laboratory method to estimate rain-induced splitting in cultivated blueberries HortScience 42 1551 1553

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • NeSmith, D.S. , Draper, A.D. & Spiers, J.M. 2005 ‘Vernon’ southern rabbiteye blueberry HortScience 40 2200 2201

  • SAS Institute 2004 SAS system software. Version 9.1.2 SAS Institute Cary, NC

  • Spiers, J.M. 1978 Effect of stage of bud development on cold injury in rabbiteye blueberry J. Amer. Soc. Hort. Sci. 103 452 455

Stephen J. Stringer U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Thad Cochran Southern Horticulture Laboratory, 810 Highway 26 W., Poplarville, MS 39470

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James M. Spiers U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Thad Cochran Southern Horticulture Laboratory, 810 Highway 26 W., Poplarville, MS 39470

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Donna A. Marshall U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Thad Cochran Southern Horticulture Laboratory, 810 Highway 26 W., Poplarville, MS 39470

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Arlen D. Draper U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Thad Cochran Southern Horticulture Laboratory, 810 Highway 26 W., Poplarville, MS 39470

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Contributor Notes

To whom reprint requests should be addressed; e-mail stephen.stringer@ars.usda.gov.

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