Saturday, 28 November 2015

Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus)

The blackberry (Rubus fruticosus) is a hardy self-fertile deciduous shrub from the Rosaceae family. Also known as brambles. Botanically, it is an aggregate fruit composed of small drupelets. The roots are perennial and the stems are biennial. Once the fruit is produced the stems die down. There are over 375 species, many of which are closely related.

It is very common in the British Isles and once established can produce vast quantities of fruit. Gardeners often find they can't get rid of a shrub in a garden setting but it is best to make good use of a vigorous blackberry rather than try to eradicate it!

Wild blackberries (R. fruticosus) growing in Scotland

Growing methods

The blackberry is usually found in woodland, on waste ground, in hedgerows and meadows. It is in leaf from March onwards, flowers from May to September and fruits from August until November. It prefers moist soil and semi-shady conditions but the fruit ripens best when the shrub is in a sunny position. The blackberry will tolerate poor soil, drought and windy conditions.

Shrubs can be propagated by seed sowing, tip layering, cuttings and division. If growing by seed sow in the autumn under cover. Stratifying the seed will help germination. Prick out seedlings and pot on under cover. Plant outside during the following spring. If tip layering, do so in the summer and plant out in the autumn. Cuttings may be also taken in the summer. Use semi-ripe wood. If propagating by division do so either in early spring or just before leaves fall in the autumn.

Various cultivated varieties are available for purchase. These can be trained in a variety of different ways.

Birds enjoy the fruit so shrubs may need to be protected with fleece or netting.

Other uses

The blackberry is a pioneer shrub which can also protect trees during their early growth. The fruit can also be used as a dye. The stem can be used to make fibre. The root and leaves can be used medicinally. The blackberry is a very good shrub for attracting wildlife.

Raw edible parts

The young leaves, young ground shoots and fruit are all edible raw. The fruit is very popular and should be picked when ripe and used immediately. The leaves can be fermented, dried and used for tea. The fresh leaves can be made into a green tea. The newly emerged ground shoots should be peeled before eating.

 As a point of interest all Rubus species have edible fruits.