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Robert G. Danka and Gregory A. Lang

`Gulfcoast' southern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum × V. darrowi) plants were placed in 3 × 6 × 2.5 m net cages with one colony of honey bees per cage and one of three pollinizer treatments: “self (other `Gulfcoast' plants), “cross/highbush” (other southern highbush cultivars), or “cross/rabbiteye” (various rabbiteye blueberry cultivars). In addition to unlimited pollination, bee foraging was controlled on individual flowers by placing small bags over corollas after 0, 1, 5, or 10 visits. Fruit set, fruit weight, fruit development period, and seed number data were taken, as well as data to relate floral morphology to duration of bee foraging. All measures of fruiting increased significantly with increased bee visitation; the threshold for significant gains in production occurred between 1 and 5 visits. Ten visits generally provided a good approximation of unlimited pollination. Set, weight, and earliness of ripening was as good, or better, for fruit derived from rabbiteye pollen compared to fruit from self- or cross/highbush-pollination.

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Gregory A. Lang and Robert G. Danka

Southern highbush (“low chill tetraploid”) blueberries are an earlier-ripening, self pollen-compatible alternative to rabbiteye blueberries. `Sharpblue', the first southern highbush cultivar planted on a commercial scale, has been shown to require cross-pollination for optimal fruit size and earliness of ripening. `Gulfcoast', a recently released cultivar for Gulf states growers of about latitude 30 to 32 N, differs in heritage from `Sharpblue', incorporating about 50% more self-compatible northern highbush germplasm. `Gulfcoast' fruit development after honey bee-mediated self- or cross-pollination with `Sharpblue' was similar in terms of set (85.5 vs. 82.2%), weight (1.26 vs. 1.18g), and seed number (32.8 vs. 33.6), respectively. Cross-pollination did not result in significantly earlier ripening. Thus, `Gulfcoast' appears to be more self-fertile than `Sharpblue'. Other closely-related cultivars are being examined to determine the genetic influence on potential for self-fruitfulness.

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Gregory A. Lang and Robert G. Danka

To study self- and cross-pollination effects on fruit development in southern highbush (mainly Vaccinium corymbosum L.) blueberries, `Sharpblue' plants were caged with honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) and other `Sharpblue' or `Gulfcoast' plants at anthesis. Ratios of pollinizer: fruiting flowers ranged from 2.1 to 4.5. Cross-pollination increased fruit size by ≈14% and seed count by 27% but did not influence fruit set. Overall, seed count decreased by 58% during the 30 days of harvest, but this did not directly affect fruit size. Seed count appeared to influence earliness of ripening as much as it influenced fruit size. Cross-pollination increased the harvest percentage of early-ripening fruits by ≈140% and of premium market fruits (those ≥ 0.75 g) by 13% and decreased the percentage of small fruits by 66%. Consequently, a 43% increase in premium early market crop value (nearly $5000/ha) resulted from optimizing `Sharpblue' cross-pollination.