Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Prickly Subject: Blackberries

Douglas Co., Oregon, USA

Blackberries are a royal cane .... or is it a royal pain?  I have a long, ongoing love hate affair with blackberries. Where I live is blackberry heaven / hell.  

In the late 1800s two varieties of blackberries were introduced into Oregon for their fruit.   One has sharply serrated leaves, tends to grow close to the ground, and knows its place.  The other, the Himalayan blackberry, took off on a wild stampede and soon was common throughout much of western Oregon.  Most of us have forgotten there is a quiet native blackberry and that there was once life without the Himalayan blackberry.

Untended field often look like unruly black berry farms.  Great big clumps of Himalayan blackberrries start as little clumps and soon there are island of blackberries all over;  Plus they love fence lines, disturbed soil along roadsides, and my backyard.  

Many years ago birds probably pooped the starter seeds into my yard.  It was about the time the garden had become too much for me to handle by myself ... and so I nurtured the patch in its place. I actually encouraged them, even watered them during the dry summer months.  Then, about five years ago, it dawned on me I had unleashed a monster in my backyard. My neighbors might not like the big canes reaching through the fence and doing their best to invade their backyard too.  

Since then I try to maintain a modicum of control over my blackberries.  Two or three times a year I trim them, making sure there is about a five foot blackberry free zone before our property line, and I nip and snip the unwelcome volunteers that pop up all over.  Of course my tidyness doesn’t last long.  Blackberry seem to be stimulated by a good pruning.  We even hired a friend to attack our patch with his chain saw, drastically cutting it back along the edge that faced our backyard.  When we left for Yellowstone I was sure that was the end of blackberries for this summer.  BUT, the blackberries loved it.  By the time we got home the butchered edge was a solid wall of blooms.  
Blooms are good, it was the great big canes rearing up out of the middle of the patch that worried me.  Blackberry can spread by seeds, by roots and by sending out huge canes which reach beyond the outer edge of the patch until they touch ground ... and then put down roots.  True to my goal of keeping my patch within controllable limits I set about cutting all the monster canes, all but one.  I was nearing the end of my project when I got to wondering, “Just how fast do they grow?”  I tied little twisties onto my remaining cane and sat down on a bucket to sketch it.  

Three days after marking and sketching the blackberry cane I went out to measure -- it had grown six inches!  No wonder I have trouble keeping up with them!  

On day six I went out to measure again. My experiment had been nipped off!   Fresh deer droppings suggest one of our nighttime deer is the guilty culprit.  


  1. LOL. I love this post as I understand this VERY WELL. Living not far from you we did the same thing in front of our house. My husband wanted the fruit, but I did not know they would come up yards away under ground to start new areas of thick canes and take over, or that the more you cut the faster they grow. I did not know there were two kinds of blackberries or that Deer loved them. So why with all of the blackberries all over our front did they eat my Roses way off the street? arrgh Both have thorns. We are in the process of getting rid of it ALL. We are always pulling up some new shoot all over our property thanks to the birds. Love your Drawing and your Story. :))

  2. Gee, I love blackberries but had no idea of their reputation! lol Thanks for the insight.