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What’s in a Name?
It’s a bit of a challenge to know what to collectively call raspberries and blackberries. In our organization, we historically called them“brambles”, and until 2008, our association was called the “North American Bramble Growers Association.” However, the term“caneberry” is increasingly coming into use, starting among scientific, regulatory, and marketing communities across the country and now getting better known among growers, gardeners, and consumers. It’s a good term because because they grow on woody stems called canes. Whichever you use, the terms describe plants belonging to the genus Rubus, of which the most commonly known — and enjoyed — are the raspberry and blackberry. There are also some hybrids between the two, such as boysenberries and loganberries. Saying “bramble” or “caneberry” is just a quick way to say “Rubus species” or “raspberries, blackberries, and related plants.” The word “bramble” is going out of use as it brings to mind the tangled, thorny “briar patch” that Brer Rabbit was tossed into, but today’s cultivated blackberry and raspberry plantings are a lot more accessible and easier to pick — and many have no thorns whatsoever.
The genus Rubus contains over 740 species that are distributed from tropical to subarctic regions. Most of these are perennial, deciduous, woody shrubs. Raspberries make up a subgenus called Ideobatus and blackberries are a subgenus called Eubatus.
The genus Rubus is in the family Rosaceae. This family also includes roses and many of our other major fruit plants, including strawberries, apples, pears, apricots, and peaches. It may be hard to see what an apple has in common with a strawberry or a blackberry — not only are the fruit very different, but there’s a big difference in size and structure of the plant! However, one obvious similarity is the flower — flowers for all these fruit plants generally have five to seven white or pink petals around a central cluster of yellow stamens.
While caneberry plants have perennial roots, each individual bramble cane lives for only two years. Generally, the new cane comes out of the ground in the spring and grows to about its full size but does not flower. Then, after it winters over, the following summer it flowers and fruits. After fruiting, it dies. The first year, it is called a primocane, and the second year it is called a floricane. So, for most types of raspberries and blackberries, this year’s primocanes are next year’s fruit producers, and the plant has both types at the same time for much of the growing season. However, bramble researchers and growers have developed some varieties and production systems that manipulate this pattern to cause fruiting on primocanes or encourage plants to produce fall fruits.
Many caneberry plants are thorny, or at least prickly, but not all. Blackberries are thornier than raspberries, but breeders have developed a number of thornless blackberry varieties that are now widely grown.
Technically, raspberries and blackberries are not even true berries (true berries include grapes and blueberries). Instead, they are aggregate fruit: clusters of many individual sections called drupelets, each containing one seed. The drupelets grow over a fleshy center core called the receptacle and are held together by tiny hairs. When picked, raspberry fruit detach from the receptacle, so the fruit has a cup-shaped cavity at its center. Blackberry fruit, by contrast, detach from the plant with the receptacle still in the fruit, as part of what we eat. Because of their lack of a central core, raspberry fruit are more delicate and easily crushed than blackberries.
Raspberry fruit come in many different colors, from deep red to purple, to yellow, though the red ones are the most common. Red raspberries are in the species Rubus idaeus, while black raspberries are an entirely different species, Rubus occidentalis. There are a number of hybrids between the two and with other Rubus species. Wineberries, which grow wild in the U.S., and are actually a native of Asia, are another species, Rubus phoenicolasius.
See this Wikipedia article for additional botanical information
Rubus fruticosus complex
The name Rubus fruticosus refers not to a single species, but is used in the aggregate sense, comprising some 2,000 described European species, these nearly all the European species in section Rubus, subgenus Rubus of the genus Rubus. The name is based on a mixture of R. plicatus Weihe & Nees and R. ulmifolius Schott. Many of the species arose as a result of hybridization and apomixis. All species belonging to R. fruticosus L. agg. are exclusively European, except for those that may have spread to other parts of the world.
Rubus fruticosus agg. species are perennial, erect and spreading shrubs with prickly stems and leaves, 1–2 m tall. These plants can spread rapidly, to form dense thickets impenetrable to people and animals. Sheep may get caught in the brambles and die. The thickets may dominate large areas, preventing the growth of other vegetation, and the dry underbrush creates a fire hazard. Goats reportedly consume the edible fruit and may help control infestations. The plants are spread by birds and other animals that eat the fruits.
A few selected Rubus species are discussed below.
Within R. fruticosus agg.:
Rubus armeniacus Focke (=R. discolor Weihe & Nees; R. procerus P.J. Muell.) (Himalayan blackberry) is a common non-native invading riparian areas in California and the Pacific Northwest, originally spread from Eurasia to Australia, New Zealand and S. Africa. Rubus laciniatus Willd. (cutleaf blackberry) is a closely related species. In addition to these two, the following six species are problem weeds in Australia: R. cissburiensis Barton & Riddelsd., R. selmeri Lindeb., R. polyanthemus Lindeb., R. ulmifolius Schott, R. vestitus Weihe & Nees, and R. rosaceus Weihe & Nees. R. vulgaris Weihe & Nees is reportedly one of the worst weeds in cultivation.
Not in R. fruticosus agg.:
Rubus allegheniensis Porter and R. hispidus L. are examples of native North American species in section Rubus, subgenus Rubus, but not in the R. fruticosus aggregate. Rubus spectabilis Pursh (salmonberry) is a native North American species in subgenus Idaeobatus, cultivated for ornament and found in the western U.S. Rubus ursinus Cham. & Schlecht. (California blackberry) is native to North America and is not noxious. Rubus rosifolius Sm. is an introduced raspberry (subgenus Idaeobatus) from Asia. In the U.S., it occurs only in Hawaii.
bramble flowerTime-lapse video, filmed over four days, of a bramble flower (Rubus species) spreading its anthers. Video by Neil Bromhall; music, Musopen.org (A Britannica Publishing Partner)See all videos for this article
Bramble, (genus Rubus), large genus of flowering plants in the rose family (Rosaceae), consisting of usually prickly shrubs. Brambles occur naturally throughout the world, especially in temperate areas, and a number are invasive species outside their native range. Many are widely cultivated for their fruits, including raspberries, blackberries, and hybrids such as loganberries and boysenberries.
- cloudberryCloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus).Veli Holopainen
- boysenberryUnripe boysenberries.© Steve Cukrov/.com
Brambles are typically erect or trailing shrubs with canelike stems, though some species are herbaceous. Many spread vegetatively and are frequently armed with prickles or hairs along their branches. The leaves can be simple or compound and are often toothed or lobed; a number of species are deciduous. The five-petaled flowers are usually white or pink and produce a characteristic fruit known as an aggregate of druplets. Many species freely hybridize with each other, making classification extremely difficult.
- dewberryDewberry (Rubus species). Dewberry fruits are edible and commonly eaten raw. DanielCD
- raspberryRed raspberries (Rubus idaeus).© Olga Lyubkin/Fotolia
- blackberry flowerFlowers of a wild blackberry (Rubus plicatus). llhoward—iStock/Thinkstock
What does bramble look like?
Bramble has long, thorny and arching stems and can grow up to two metres or more high.
Leaves: alternate and palmately compound. Each leaf is divided into three or five serrated, short-stalked, oval leaflets. Leaves are dark green on top and pale beneath. Leaf stalks and mid-ribs are prickly.
Flowers: clusters of white or pink flowers appear from late spring to early summer. They are 2–3cm in diameter with five petals and many stamens.
Fruits/seeds: the fruit, known as a blackberry, is 1–2cm in length and ripens from green through red, to deep purple and finally black when ripe in late July.
Not to be confused with: wild raspberry (Rubus idaeus) which also produces fruits made up of many tiny individual fruits or drupelets. They can all be a similar colour at certain times and ripen at similar times of the year. There are some differences to help identification. When a ripe raspberry is picked it is red and there is a hollow within the fruit. When a ripe blackberry is picked it is black and the soft white core remains inside the fruit. Dewberry (Rubus caesius) resembles bramble but tends to have fewer, larger individual fruits. Their fruit surface is waxy rather than shiny and their stems tend to scramble along the ground rather than being tall and arching.
Irish Wildflowers Irish Wild Plants Irish Wild Flora Wildflowers of Ireland
Bramble or Blackberry comes in many forms possibly several hundreds of microspecies – and only an expert could have a hope of identifying many of these. The brambles which line our laneways and form a large part of our hedgerows are referred to collectively as Rubus fructicosus. Their distinctive arching stems are covered with sharp thorns and they frequently root along the ground when they touch it. The 20-30mm pink or white flowers have five petals and five sepals and are best seen from May to September. The leaves are green, often whitish beneath, with three or five lobes. The vicious thorns are well-known to anyone who ever tried to pick the wonderful fruit which is red at first becoming purple-black when ripe. Our Blackberry is a native plant and belongs to the family Rosaceae.
I first remember picking Blackberries in the Dublin mountains in the late 1940’s and I photographed this wonderful plant near Wellingtonbridge, Co Wexford in 2005.
If you are satisfied you have correctly identified this plant, please submit your sighting to the National Biodiversity Data Centre