The intensely blue fruit of the tree are relatively short-lived, as the fleshy berries are quickly eaten by birds. The foliage of the tree is neat and the flowers are often fragrant. The leaves have short petioles and vary in their ovoid shape, measuring up to 3.5 in (9 cm) in length and half as wide. The leaves bear some trichomes above and are far more pubescent on their veins beneath. The species blooms in early summer after leaves have developed. These whitish blooms are formed in lateral clusters up to 2 in (5 cm) long, with each hermaphroditic flower bearing five petals and thirty stamens, the latter of which give the flower clusters a fluffy appearance. The ovoid fruits of the tree most often bear a single seed.
It can grow in a variety of conditions, but prefers a sunny location with moist and acidic soil.
History and Introduction
Sapphire berries have been residents of this country just over 125 years. It was in 1875, near the end of his work in the Imperial Customs, that Thomas Hogg, of a well known New York horticultural family, sent them to America from Japan. E. H. Wilson, who was always a great admirer of the plant, felt that its hardiness and beauty entitled it to much more general use in our gardens. He wrote of seeing sapphire berries in China around Ichang and in the tributary valleys he explored along the Yangtze.
Sapphire berry can become a dominant species in forest settings. They have the ability to replace native understory shrubs such as highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), maple-leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), and huckleberry (Ericaceae spp.) and can out-compete seedling oaks and maples.
The most significant impact is on the insect species associated with these native species. At the ecosystem level, a decline in insects results in a decline in birds and other species. This adverse replacement effect is a growing concern as some of native forest species such as White Ash (Fraxinus americana) are decimated or eliminated by introduced insect pests.
Sapphire berry can be controlled in a way similar to buckthorn by pulling the entire plant wherever possible and pull all seedlings. This plant has a deep taproot that requires two hands and sometimes two people to pull. Cutting the plant’s stems and swiping with herbicide or foliar herbicide application is also effective.