The Blackberry Family: Juicy and Delicious

The Blackberry Family: Juicy and Delicious

The large and diverse blackberry family (Rubus sp.) includes blackberries, raspberries, dewberries, salmonberries, and many hybrids and combinations of various North American and Eurasian species and cultivars, including the loganberry (raspberry x blackberry), the boysenberry (loganberry x raspberry x blackberry), the youngberry (blackberry x dewberry), and the marionberry (raspberry x blackberry x dewberry x loganberry x youngberry). There are more than 700 total Rubus species, hybrids, and  cultivars, many of them native to or developed in North America.

The blackberry family is treasured for its delicious and nutritious berries. They grow vigorously both in the wild and in cultivation and are eaten fresh or made into dozens of different foods and drinks.

Blackberry species are also major food sources for many species of wildlife, and the dense, thorny thickets they develop in the wild provide shelter for many birds and small mammals.

Avoid the non-native Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus), which is invasive in many states and out-competes native blackberries and most other native vegetation. Himalayan blackberries are extremely difficult to get rid of. Options include cutting them back and digging out as much of the roots as possible, cutting them back and using spot applications of herbicides, and grazing the area with goats, which seem to relish blackberries despite the thorns. The Cutleaf Evergreen Blackberry (Rubus laciniatus) is another Eurasian species that has become naturalized in the United States and is now considered an invasive weed.

Some of the most important native North American Rubus species include:

  • Red rasberry – the cultivated red raspberry is a cross between Rubus strigosus, the American red raspberry, and Rubus idaeus, the European red raspberry
  • Black raspberry (Rubus occidentalis – this is the species that is typically labelled black raspberry in commercial use)
  • Black raspberry (Rubus leucodermis – a close relative of Rubus occidentalis that is native to Western North America)
  • Allegheny blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis)
  • Pacific blackberry (Rubus ursinus)
  • Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis)
  • Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus)
Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pfly/150803849/