Lowbush blueberry is a low, stiffly branching shrub, ½–3 feet high, often growing in extensive colonies. Note that this is a variable species with differences in leaf size and degrees of hairiness on the leaves and twigs.
Leaves are alternate, simple, the blade ¾–1¾ inches long, ½–1 inch wide; the shape varies from oval to egg-shaped or broadest above the middle; the tip is blunt to pointed; the base is tapering; the margin is entire or finely toothed especially near the tip; the upper surface is pale green, glossy, somewhat more net-veined above than below, smooth; the lower surface is pale green, hairy or smooth; the leaf stalk is very short. Note that small leaves (bracts) are absent at the base of the flowers or fruit.
Bark is greenish brown or red, smooth, often slightly ridged; the wood is soft, white.
Twigs are rather loosely arranged, stiff, green to brown, rough with minute dots, hairy or smooth.
Flowers April–May, sometimes reflowers in October. In spring, it flowers when leaves are partly expanded, at the end of branches or from the old axils. Flowers are white to greenish white, often pinkish-tinged, or red, about ¼ inch long, cylinder-shaped, longer than broad; lobes 5, short, spreading to reflexed; stamens 10, not exceeding the petals.
Fruits late June–August, each berry is about ¼ inch across, dull dark blue to almost black with a faint whitish coating, globe-shaped, sweet, palatable, ripening throughout a long period; the seeds are many, glossy, reddish brown, pitted.
Similar species: Four species of Vaccinium (blueberries) have been recorded as native or naturalized in Missouri. In addition to lowbush blueberry, our other native blueberries are farkleberry (V. arboreum) and deerberry (V. stamineum). The fourth, highbush or swamp blueberry (V. corymbosum), is apparently introduced; it’s uncommon in our state, known from a historical collection of a possibly native occurrence in Newton County, and a more recent, introduced occurrence in Ste. Genevieve County, where fruit plantings apparently escaped from cultivation. It’s an important fruit crop in the eastern and midwestern United States.
Another species, black huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata), is in the same family as blueberries. Its leaves have numerous tiny, sticky, yellow resin dots (glands), at least on the undersurface, and its fruits (technically drupes, not berries) are leathery with 10 seedlike nutlets (whereas blueberries are berries with numerous seeds). It is critically imperiled in Missouri and known (for certain) only from a few sites in Montgomery and Perry counties.