Thursday, July 3, 2008

Even Better!

I was out picking more of my blackberries today, and noted that they didn't look like normal blackberries. The leaves were different, although there is quite the prolific amount of thorns, arching canes, etc. The fruit actually looks like raspberries, but they are the wrong color. Everyone I know here in Maryland calls them blackberries, though, so I assumed that's what they were. I figured it was just a local wild variant.

I decided to look up blackberries on the internet, because although these were growing wild, they are forming a mass of arched thorny branches down the length of my wooded area and I want to keep that moderately cleared out to keep snakes, mice, and other pests down as much as possible. I have huge loops between plants, where apparently the arches landed on the ground and started forming more plants. I also wanted to see if I needed to do anything to help the plants set fruit better, by pruning. (I know very little about growing fruit, but nearly every fruit I hear about has to be pruned at some point to increase fruit set so I figured it was the case with these, too, even though they're "wild").

The berries and plants I kept finding on the blackberry sites weren't matching what I have, though, until I stumbled on a site that encouraged people to Grow Native!, and saw what looks like my plants: I have black raspberries! The black raspberries are native to North America, while the red ones are from Europe and Asia. There are apparently two different types, one western and one eastern variety. The black raspberries fell from popularity in the U.S. because the red ones were considered a luxury (shipped in from Europe) and that's what everyone started growing for themselves. There are still some black raspberries that are commercially grown, but it is primarily the western variety in the Pacific Northwest. And they are expensive. Who knew?

The fruit and fruit set of my bramble is identical to the pictures I found on the site, down to the separation of the fruit from the plant, leaving a little hollow in the middle. The fruits are also not overly shiny, and have the tiny hairs I have seen on the red raspberries. Real blackberries, on the other hand, do not leave a hollow in the middle when you pick them and break off flush with the top of the berry; they also tend to be larger and more shiny than black raspberries.

Black raspberry fruit set:

My plant:

Black raspberry fruit:

My fruit:


The pictures I found of the leaves (with whitish undersides) and the canes (greyish/whitish green) match in color, size, and leaf type to my plants, too. Blackberry leaves are also have much sharper ridges along the leaf veins, whereas black raspberry leaves have a sawed edge but smoother leaves. I checked a few other sites, and sure enough ~ that's what I've got.

Black raspberry leaves:

My plant:

Curiously, though, these do not get a whole lot of sun but seem to be thriving nonetheless. Each website I checked about growing black raspberries suggests putting them in partial to full sun, depending on how hot the summers are. Mine get a couple of hours in the morning, and then get about an hour in the evening, that's it. Maybe if I pulled one of the plants out and planted it in the sun, it would produce more fruit? Hmmm. An experiment for next year...

Anyway: Fabulous! I now know what I have back there, and how to care for it. I'm supposed to clear out the canes that bore fruit this year and leave the others. Raspberries bear fruit on the previous year's vegetative non-fruiting canes. Black raspberries are also not overly invasive, they only produce canes from their crown, so suckering off the roots isn't a problem. Whereever a cane arches over and touches the ground, though, it will root and form a new plant ~ which I'd noted when I was scrambling around through there getting scratched up this morning. If I want to thin it out, I can, realizing that the more canes I get rid of the less fruit I'll have next year.

I have a lot of pruning work to do this fall and winter, between the raspberry brambles and the still-unknown species of grapevine that has run amok over its trellis. I'm just letting it grow, there are a lot of grapes on it. I do know that it is not a wild grape variety. Whatever it is, it was deliberately planted and properly trained at one point, I can see where the single trunk was selected and it was trained laterally over the framework. I have no idea if the previous owners ever pruned that thing or not, but it is at least 10 feet tall, about twice as wide, and is reaching for some of my trees. I discovered what it was too late in the spring to prune it; if I'd tried it at that time, it would have "bled" (run sap) for a long time and possibly invite diseases in. So, I am waiting until fall to find out what they are ~ whether they are "table grapes" or "wine grapes". Because of the vigorous undergrowth of a couple of very large honeysuckles shrubs (trees!), I don't know if the grapes will get the sunlight needed to ripen or not, but we'll see.

The blob o' foilage:


In the meantime, I'll just keep on picking my black raspberries every few days or so as they continue to ripen. I have now picked enough to fill one of those plastic 1-lb strawberry containers, with more berries freezing on a cookie sheet. There's lots more out there, so I might actually get enough to make jam out of them! (It takes 5 cups of smashed berries to make jam). This is such an unexpected blessing! I had wanted to plant some raspberries in my garden anyway; I guess God knew that and had them waiting for me here at our new house! I may still plant some red raspberries, but I know I have to keep them far away from the black ones. For one thing, they'll cross-pollinate (with sometimes not nice results), and for seconds, apparently black raspberries can carry all sorts of viruses that will get into the red ones, the red ones being less able to fend off the diseases.

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