Blackberry

Rubus spp.
Family: Rosaceae

Natural History
Blackberry fruits hanging from a vine
Photo credit: Larry Korhnak, University of Florida

Blackberry bushes are often called brambles, from a word that means prickly. The plants are characteristically armed with stiff, sharp prickles along the stems and midrib of leaves. The perennial shrubs reproduce new canes (shoots) every year; however, the annual fruit grows on the previous year's canes.

Blackberries are best known for their sweet, edible fruits. While they are referred to as berries, they are actually small clusters of tiny drupelets, each with a single seed. The fruit is grown commercially for jellies, preserves, and desserts and may also be used to produce blackberry wine or vinegar.

The plant is known to have medicinal properties and is used by herbalists to treat dysentery. The ancient Greeks used blackberry extract as a remedy for gout.

The fruits are an important food source for many wildlife species including black bear, deer, rabbit, and numerous songbirds. Deer also browse on the leaves and woody shoots. Small mammals and game birds frequently use blackberry thickets for shelter and nesting sites.

Blackberry is widely distributed throughout the eastern United States. It is a fairly hardy plant that grows in a variety of climates and may do well in both cool, northeastern regions and hot, central Florida locations.


 

Identifying Characteristics

Habitat: Blackberry grows well in a variety of soil types and locations from dry, sandy upland areas to flatwoods and stream banks. It is a common roadside and fence line plant.
Size/Form: Blackberry is a woody perennial shrub that is heavily armed with sharp prickles. It frequently grows in heavy thickets of shoots (canes) that reach heights from 3' to 8'.
Leaves: The leaves are palmately compound and alternately arranged, with 3 to 5 leaflets on each leaf. The upper surface of leaflets is dark grayish-green and fuzzy while the underside is paler, also fuzzy, and has prickles along the midrib. Leaflet shape is generally obovate with a rounded base and serrate margin.
Flowers: Small, white, 5-petaled flowers grow in loose clusters near the tips of the branches.
Fruit: The fruit is an edible cluster of tiny drupelets that turn deep bluish-black when ripe. Each cluster is about 3/4" to 1" long.

 

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