Agricultural Research Service scientists have released an early-ripening rabbiteye blueberry cultivar that, when grown with other blueberry varieties, will extend the growing season in the Gulf Coast region.

The variety, named Prince, was developed at the ARS Southern Horticultural Laboratory in Poplarville, Miss., and tested in Stone County and McNeil, Miss., by research geneticist Stephen Stringer, according to a news release. Prince yielded high scores in several categories, including color, firmness, flavor and size when tested over three years.

Prince tends to have an extended bloom period, providing insurance against early spring frost. It also is more adapted to the region's hot, humid climate than other varieties. Prince ripens four to five days earlier than the current earliest-ripening rabbiteye blueberry varieties, allowing growers to capitalize on the lucrative early-season, fresh blueberry market.

A cross between MS 598 and Florida 80-11, Prince berries are medium size and color with a mild flavor and less tartness than many other rabbiteye varieties.

A limited supply of 1-year-old plants is available to nurserymen for propagation and for sale to growers.

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