Species Profile: Himalayan Blackberries

Many people believe that black flies are the scourge of the Pacific Northwest. I’ve actually found that the blackberries are truly the biggest nuisance from my experience doing research in urban, suburban, and remote localities in Oregon and Washington.

Species: Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus Focke)

Photo courtesy of Sheina Sim

The Himalayan blackberry has been given many different species names, but it currently goes by Rubus armeniacus due to its Armenian origins (the most common taxonomic synonyms include R. discolor and R. procerus). There are a few different accounts on the origin of this pest, but the consensus seems to be that it was introduced first to Germany in 1835 where it is still cultivated, and it was introduced 50 years later to the United States by a botanist named Luther Burbank who gave it its current moniker thinking that it was originally from central Asia. Since then, it has escaped cultivation and spread to nearly half of all 50 states! This success is likely because the blackberry has evolved to grow rapidly, have thorns that deter browsing, and can colonize new areas clonally and by seed. Most importantly, it is a fantastic energy source for animals which eat the seed filled berries, involuntarily break down the coarse outer shell of the seeds in their stomachs, and deposit it–complete with fertilizer–when the seeds finally leave their system in a new location.

Map of states where Rubus armeniacus has invaded

Himalayan blackberry invasion
Photo courtesy of USDA Plants

Seasonality and Harvest

The invasive blackberry flowers in the late spring and early summer, and the fruiting season is at its height in the mid to late summers. The fruits can be identified as dark clusters of plump druplets (fruit with a fleshy outer part and stony seed in the middle) that are ripe when they can be plucked easily. They can be found in mesic habitats rubbing elbows amongst other deciduous species, particularly disturbed areas, on the sides of most roads, abandoned parking lots, and pretty much anywhere plants can grow and they are not actively removed. I collected some at St. Cloud State Park off of Highway 14 in Washington.

Control

After harvesting to your fill, it would be exemplary of a true invasivore to destroy the patch from which you collected. However, as they can grow in areas prone to wildfires, please do not set them ablaze. Ultimately, the best form of control is prevention. Though the blackberry is already rampant in the United States, further spread can still be minimized. Pulling up seedlings, which can be identified as having light bright green leaves that are palmately compound with five leaflets, is a great way to prevent colonization. Prevention of secondary spread can also be achieved by being mindful of what berries you consume and where you choose to relieve yourself; so keep that in mind, and please avoid leaving digested seeds where they can grow into annoying blackberry bushes. If there is a large and brambly patch of blackberries you would like to remove, consider hiring a goat! There are many companies that rent out goats for landscaping and though most ungulates will shy away from the thorny canes, goats will eat them with fervor. Livestock for Landscapes is a great resource for finding a goat hiring agency in your area.

***For recipes featuring Himalayan Blackberries, check out our Blackberry Custard Pie and Blackberry Smoothie!***

Sheina

A self-proclaimed modern day nomad, I was born in the Philippines, grew up in southern California—lived all over really—and now I do research as a graduate student in Indiana and the Pacific Northwest. Professionally speaking, my current area of focus is speciation and ecological genetics and genomics, and a common theme in my various projects over the years is evolution in agricultural systems. As a recipient of a GLOBES—an interdisciplinary program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through the Integrative Graduate Education, Research, and Traineeship grant (IGERT) —fellowship, I have received training which has better enabled me to view and ponder topics without my science hat on. I take great joy in eating, cooking, and experiencing nature through various activities. I love to travel and anticipate many local and international invasivore field trips! Though my research interests do not directly involve the study of invasive species, I have had my fair share of negative encounters with environmentally noxious organisms in the midst of doing field research. I carry around a machete with which to combat my gnarly “Himalayan” foes, and my machete and I have raised more than a few eyebrows. Apart from my personal vendetta against these deliciously juicy pests, I feel that there are great advantages to linking our awareness of the natural world to our culture, and Invasivore is an avenue to do just that. I feel that an increase in general knowledge of invasive species will be of great benefit to the field of invasive species and conservation biology. Knowledge and awareness will lead to action, and action will lead to results!

6 thoughts on “Species Profile: Himalayan Blackberries

  • February 8, 2011 at 12:03 pm
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    I’ll have to stick to salmonberries on my backpacking trips from now on. I guess I’ll be leaving my goat at home too.

    Reply
  • February 10, 2011 at 5:57 pm
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    Thanks for sending folks to the web site to look for a prescribed goat grazier.

    Folks might also like to know that cows can eat this plant with only a little training. In fact, I’ve trained cows to eat other weeds, and once their minds are open to the idea that food can be more than just grass, I’ve watched them eat every bit as much variety as my goats ever did. When goats aren’t available, access to cows can be much easier.

    I have more information on my website at http://www.livestockforlandscapes.com and some videos of cows at work on my youtube channel at http://www.youtube.com/kathyvoth.

    Thanks!

    Reply
  • March 11, 2011 at 7:28 am
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    Just wondering, on the map shown, are the gray areas or the white areas the ones with Himalayan Blackberries?

    Reply
    • March 11, 2011 at 8:21 am
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      TR
      The gray shaded stated are states with blackberries. A more detailed map with specific location points is available from invasive.org. Good luck!

      Reply
  • Pingback: Weekly Invasivore Round-up March 13,2011 | Invasivore.org

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