If you spend much time along the Pacific Coast Highway (and we do) you are sure to notice the profusion of blackberries growing along the roadside. By the time we get out here in April they’re already blooming -white, five-petaled flowers with just a hint of pink – and as the season progresses they set fruit which changes from green to red to black as they ripen. We started to see ripe berries a few weeks ago, in early July up here in southern Oregon, and now they’re all over the place. I picked a pint without much trouble in less than half an hour, and enjoyed a real treat. All you do is wash them, add a little sugar, and eat until you’re stuffed. If I were ambitious I could make a cobbler or pie.
This species of blackberry, Rubus armeniacus, is an introduced species. The native blackberries in this area were slow growers and relatively poor yielders, and have been almost totally displaced by the so-called Himalayan blackberry. They’re native to western Europe, but some plant marketer thought Himalayan sounded better, so that’s what they’re called. They love sunny spots, can get by on 30 inches of rain a year, and are almost impossible to eradicate once established. They have underground tubers called root crowns and the long, prickly canes that emerge from these root crowns will root at their tips. Although the seeds are dispersed widely by birds and animals eating the berries, their main method of propagation is vegetative.
Along the coastal highway, you’ll see small clumps, but inland these blackberries form impenetrable thickets, which are going to stay and grow until someone goes to the trouble of clearing the land and going back for the next few years to kill all the emerging canes sprouting from the remaining root crowns. It’s like bamboo – you really can’t get rid of it easily. Criminals have figured out that the best way to dispose of a weapon you don’t want law enforcement to find is to chuck it into one of these thickets. Even goats, the most effective form of weed control, have a hard time clearing these areas.
Since I’m not a local landowner, though, I don’t have any of these problems. I just like to pick the berries as I boondock along the highway, which is easy enough to do. It’s a nice reminder of the progression of the seasons as we watch them bloom and ripen. When the berries are almost gone, we know it’s time to head south – another summer has gotten away from us. But they’ll be back next year, whether you’re happy about it or not.