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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Saturday - April 23, 2011

From: Chattanooga, TN
Region: Southeast
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Identification of plant from childhood
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I am trying to locate and identify a plant from my childhood (I'm 65). It was either a small tree or possibly a tree formed hedge like plant. It had small roundish leaves scattered on tiny limbs similar to wild huckleberry plant. It had white bell shaped flowers similar in size and shape to lily of the valley except more transparent in appearance.

ANSWER:

Mr. Smarty Plants may be able to make some suggestions as long as it is a North American native plant (our specialty) and if your childhood was spent in Tennessee near your present location.   If you spent your childhood in another part of the country far from Chatanooga, Tennessee, then you need to let us know where it was so that we can do a different search.

So, we're looking for a large shrub/small tree with bell-shaped flowers similar to Convallaria majuscula (American lily of the valley) and small round leaves similar to wild huckleberry.

Your plant sounds as if it belongs to the Family Ericaceae (Heath Family).  There are 119 members of that family in our Native Plant Database, but we can narrow that number down to 31 species found in Tennessee if you use the NARROW YOUR SEARCH option and choose Tennessee from the Select State or Province category.  This gives us 31 possibilities.  You can narrow the search more by making a size choice.

One that doesn't occur on our list as living in Tennessee is Vaccinium myrtilloides (Velvetleaf huckleberry).  It has leaves and flowers that match your description but it isn't listed as occurring in Tennessee although it does occur in North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

Here are more possibilities from the list for Kentucky:

The one with flowers and leaves that most closely match your description is Vaccinium arboreum (Farkleberry) usually grows to 12-15 feet, but can grow to 25 feet.  Here are more photos.

Eubotrys racemosa (Fetter-bush) has flowers that match, but the leaves don't.  More photos.

Lyonia ligustrina (He-huckleberry) flowers somewhat fit your discription but the leaves don't.  Here are photos.

Leucothoe fontanesiana (Drooping leucothoe) has similar flowers but leaves don't match.  More photos.

Vaccinium corymbosum (Highbush blueberry) and here are photos.

Vaccinium fuscatum (Black highbush blueberry) and more photos.

Vaccinium pallidum (Blue ridge blueberry) and here are photos.

You can see many of these plants shown on the following webpage:  North Carolina Wildflowers, Shrubs—Ericaceae>Vaccinium.

Here are photos from our Image Gallery of some of the plants above.  I hope that you can find your childhood plant among them.


Vaccinium myrtilloides

Vaccinium arboreum

Eubotrys racemosa

Leucothoe fontanesiana

Vaccinium corymbosum

 

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