As we were picking berries yesterday, I realized we have about three species of blackberries, possibly more. One is properly called a Dewberry, and I was calling it brambleberry. We picked all three happily yesterday, the final weigh-in was about 5 pounds of blackberries. We also harvested late blueberries and chokecherries, but someone asked about the pictures I had taken of the blackberries, so I looked closer at the identification. All blackberries are of the Rubus species, and they can interbreed with the result that exact identification can be difficult for a non-expert. My guide books are a bit vague on some species, but I have nailed down the three we were harvesting yesterday, at least.
This charming little plant likes wet places. We have it toward the back of the pasture down all the way into the woods, where it forms carpets of the bright green, evergreen leaves. Rubus hispidus has weak thorns, but still unpleasant when it wraps around your ankle as you are walking. I found it growing up and over stumps and rocks most picturesque yesterday. My daughter says they are sweeter than the common blackberries and this year it has been wetter than normal, so there are a lot of plump juicy berries on the brambles.
The problem with identifying the common blackberry is that it is so profligate. It will happily interbreed with any nearby blackberry species, and there are hundreds if not thousands of recorded variants in North America. My blackberries prefer south or west facing slopes, growing even in heavy shade. The canes range from knee-high on the driest slopes to head height in the wetter, shadier places. They bear heavily when they have the moisture, in some cases enough fruit to cause the cane to fall over from the weight. The berries are longer than they are wide, and the thorns are fierce, indeed. I try to wear jeans and shoes when picking, and I suffer if I venture after them with shorts on. Barefoot in the blackberry patch is not an option, even for me. The fruit makes up for it, with it’s sweet, rich, earthy flavor. We usually run the berries through a juicer to remove the seeds before we make jam from them.
That’s a misnomer, the canes do have thorns, but they are relatively few and weak. The smooth blackberries are also shorter than the common blackberry, and fewer in number. I only have them on one west-facing slope on the East side of the pasture, the opposite side from the common blackberry. Their leaves are narrower than the common ones, and the berries are much smaller. I picked several handfuls, but they weren’t worth seeking out. I found them while I was looking for chokecherries, which were growing intermingled with them.