Wild ‘raspberries’ great for eating, not planting

In early summer, bring a container and go for a drive nearly anywhere in Frederick County. Stop by any sunny embankment along the edge of a forest and you’ll most likely find an abundance of what look like raspberries: dusky red, thorny canes loaded down with shiny, bright-red fruit that are a touch smaller than store-bought or home-grown raspberries.

These fruits are actually wineberries (Rubus phoenicolasius), a very close cousin of the raspberry that is actually a foreign invader from China, Korea and Japan. Though the berries are very sweet and tasty and make excellent jams, desserts and fresh eating, the plants they grow on are very aggressive. The National Park Service notes that the plant “displaces native plants and significantly alters habitat structure” along field and forest margins where it regularly occurs.

Brought to the United States in the 1890s to improve raspberry breeding stock and used even today by breeders, wineberry readily escapes cultivation. Avoid buying this plant from nurseries or plant sellers no matter the glowing descriptions of its form and fruit quality; choose instead native blackberry species or non-suckering raspberries.

Cane fruits like blackberries and raspberries need full sun and well-drained soil to perform well, but can be affected by disease if wild plants are growing nearby. Try to eradicate any unknown wild types from the vicinity before planting cultivated berry types. If you’re chemical-averse, borrow a goat: they’re known to especially relish mowing down problem brambles!

Article by Michelle Donahue, FCFCDB member

Nature Note for 7/27/14