Of the Rubus genus, the blackberry plant is a hardy and adaptable perennial that can grow just as vigorously in nutrient-stripped wastelands as it does in the verdant wilds of the forest. Comprising of more than 375 species, blackberries can be found all over the world. Its ubiquity, sweet tasting fruit, and ease of identification makes the blackberry plant a favorite among novice and expert foragers alike.
Features of the Blackberry Plant
There are several blackberry cultivars that are native or naturalized to the climates of North America. These span the cutleaf blackberry (R. laciniatus), Himalayan blackberry (R. armeniacus), sawtooth blackberry (R. argutus), California blackberry (R. ursinus), elmleaf blackberry (R. ulmifolius),and Allegheny blackberry (R. allegheniensis).
Identifying these and other blackberry species isn’t difficult since they share the same noteworthy characteristics. Blackberry plants are woody shrubs that send out arching canes that can grow to a length of up to 20 feet. The prickly stems with straight or curved thorns take root where they touch the soil, forming dense brambles that can quickly colonize new lands. Clusters of green leaves alternate along the cane and are often oval shaped with serrated edges.
A biennial plant, blackberries do not produce fruit or flowers during the first year of new growth. In its second season, the canes develop small white or pink flowers with a profusion of yellow stamens in its center. Blackberry fruits are not berries per se but are technically aggregate fruits made up of numerous drupelets. Fruits are first white or green in color, turning red and eventually darkening to a bluish-black once they are ripe and ready to be picked.
Sourcing Blackberries in the Wild
Blackberries grow practically anywhere there is an abundance of sunlight. Search for them in natural meadows, field edges, the margins of rivers and ponds, and along rural roads. The can be found in places where the earth has been disturbed – clear cut and abandoned lands for example or in sites of past forest fires. Most types prefer a balanced, mesic climate, though some species of blackberry grow in wet marshes while others may be found in dry, sandy conditions.
Southerners can pick ripe wild blackberries as early as spring. Further north, harvests can persist until late summer to autumn.
When foraging for blackberries and other bramble plants, wear gloves and protective clothing. Brambles can be dense and seemingly impenetrable and their thorns can easily slice through flesh and fabric. You can fashion a berry picker from a length of PVC pipe to capture the hardest to reach fruits.
Though all aggregate fruits with drupelets like the blackberry and raspberry are safe to eat, you may wish to bring a field guide with you to properly identify blackberries as well as other wild foods you may encounter.