I garden in a small space. So when I decided to grow brambleberries, I thought it’d be smart to look for thornless ones. The thorny kind tend to go where they are not wanted, slicing through my shirtsleeves and stabbling my bare feet.
While I’m generally in favor of looking to local nurseries for plants, in this case I had to search a little further. In fact, my search led me so far that I’m breaking up the info into two posts, so you won’t get tired. (The second post will come out next week.)
My love for berries goes way back. I had a berry-loving grandmother in the Pacific Northwest, where brambles are legend, and she taught me to love them. She was the one who named salmonberries and thimbleberries for me, sparse glowing surprises at the half-shaded edge of the forest.
Salmonberries (Rubus spectabilis) and thimbleberries (Rubus parviflorus) are lovely garden plants in the right location, small, and nowhere near as aggressive as their other bramble kin. But if you’re looking for serious berry production, you must go to the other brambleberries. And many of those other varieties are specialty items you can’t find everywhere – especially if you want the thornless versions.
I get stuck by those suckering shoots that seem to rise up in an instant, where no blackberries were before.
If you want an in-depth rundown on the different kinds of brambleberries, their habits and diseases, you can read “Blackberry Production in Oregon” by the berrygrapeorg. Oregon is prime territory for berries, as we will see, so it’s bound to be an excellent resource. This blog from Oregon gives you the gamut of brambleberries in less formal language, but with lots of detail. If you want the easy-reader description of the brambleberry family, keep going. This is it.
Blackberries (Rubus fruticosus) are some of the most well-known brambles (which, for the plant geeks among you, are the genus Rubus, and in the rose family – you can tell by the flowers). I first knew them as cobbler. My grandmother used to make it (for purists, a cobbler is not the same as a crisp. You top the berries with globs of sweetened biscuit dough, instead of the oatmeal-brown sugar thing). She was particularly partial to the small, trailing wild berries – not the hulking later-fruiting Himalayas introduced by Luther Burbank. Like a genie out of a bottle, these blackberries have taken over the land. (They are the very thorny blackberries pictured in this post). My grandmother would pick the Himalayas when they came in season, but she preferred the early small trailing ones that are really native, small bursts of intense flavor.
There is more choice for thornless blackberries than any other bramble fruit. It’s hard to tell, even from the descriptions, what the difference is between them. “Doyle’s thornless” gets huge ballyhoo here: it’s the best for yields and range tolerance. But then here is “Triple Crown”, which is also the best in yields and vigor. It ripens a week or so earlier than “Chester”, which is a long-known thornless variety. As is “Black Satin”, “Arapaho”, and a long list of others.
If you want to see some of the huge selection available, try here , here , here , and here (search “thornless” to get their full selection of brambleberries, including thornless blackberries), or go to One Green World , and good old Gurney’s .
If you want to know good ways to prune them, the West Virginia Extension Service has an excellent site on that. And a horticulturalist from the University of Kentucky offers an evaluation of different training systems for thornless blackberries here.
I’ve ordered the “Wild Treasure” thornless blackberry from Raintree Nursery – they claim it’s an unspined offshoot of my grandmother’s favorite trailing blackberry. I’m trying “Black Pearl”, too, a blackberry which is supposed to taste like marionberries.
Marionberries (Rubus x or Rubus sp., since it’s a cross) are a lesser-known brambleberry. They’re named for the county in Oregon where they were bred, a cross between a Chehalem blackberry and and Olallieberry blackberry. I didn’t know Marionberries were blackberries until I looked them up for this article.
It’s been awhile since I had marionberries, but my memory is that they have a redder taste than most blackberries, a sort of winey background flavor that lingers on the tongue. I do, deeply, remember a marionberry pie I ate in Oregon on a road trip. It was a regular two-crusted pie in a diner on the side of the road, and I savored its flavor for another two hours of driving.
Loganberries (Rubus loganobaccus) are another of the lesser-known brambleberries – not many people outside of the Pacific Northwest seem to know about them, but they taste sort of like darker, bigger raspberries on with more depth to their flavor.
Next week: thornless boysenberries, youngberries, and raspberries