Highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum L.) are the major cultivated species of tetraploid (2n = 4x = 48) blueberry grown in temperate parts of North America and the world. The blueberry breeding group at the University of Florida (UF) has been developing southern highbush cultivars (V. corymbosum bred and selected for low winter chilling requirement) for over 60 years. The successful development of southern highbush cultivars at UF benefitted from the ready availability of wild Vaccinium germplasm native to Florida, particularly V. darrowii, an evergreen blueberry that grows as far south as Lake Okeechobee. The cultivars released from UF have created a Florida blueberry industry that was valued at over $75 million in 2014, and allowed rapid expansion of blueberry production in other subtropical areas of the world.
Dr. Ralph Sharpe started blueberry breeding at UF in 1950, followed by Dr. Wayne Sherman. Dr. Paul Lyrene headed the program from 1977-2009, and Dr. Jim Olmstead took over the reigns after his retirement. The current success of UF blueberry cultivars in Florida and worldwide is no accident - program leaders over the years have been frequently awarded for their breeding work. Drs. Sharpe, Sherman and Lyrene have all been awarded the Wilder Medal by the American Pomological Society. 'Sharpblue' - the first southern highbush blueberry cultivar released by Ralph Sharpe and Wayne Sherman - was awarded the Outstanding Fruit Cultivar by the American Society for Horticultural Science. Dr. Paul Lyrene was honored in 2011 with induction into the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame.