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Friend or Foe?

Posted by Chris McLeod over 4 years ago

The days are still hot here. And for the past few weeks the rain seems to have gone elsewhere. Blue skies and light winds are slowly turning to Autumn conditions and the nights have been both cool and clear. The plants are also showing signs of the approaching autumn. Today the blackberries have almost finished supplying their delicious berries.

Blackberries are one of my favourite berries, as to me they taste of the summer sunshine. It is very considerate of the plants to capture that taste. Blackberry plants are also virtually indestructible and will produce huge quantities of fruit even in the sort of hot and dry summer conditions like this one.

It is a surprise to me when people tell me how much they don’t like blackberries. Or they describe the plant as a noxious weed – whatever that means. The local council in this mountain range sprays herbicide on many of the blackberry canes. That spraying unfortunately produces a huge quantity of dry flammable material a month or two later at the height of summer, which is a serious fire risk. The blackberries however, don’t seem to mind the herbicide as two years later they grow back and look more or less the same to me.

Not everyone is as excited about the blackberry bush as I am. So I undertook a bit of an investigation to find out what all of the fuss was about.

No research on any fruit is complete without opening Dr Louis Glowinski’s most excellent book: “The complete book of fruit growing in Australia”. It really is a complete book as he covers over 200 fruits growing in Australia. He writes about the blackberry: “Well, it is rumoured that blackberries are invasive plants, weeds that can take over a garden, are hard to manage, and unless carefully tended become a tangled mess and hardly bear at all. And unfortunately the rumours are correct.” However, on the other hand he also writes: “These most luscious of fruits are so delicate that their indescribably delicious flavour can only be experienced by those lucky folks able to select their berries direct from the vine”. I note that those observations indicate that the plant is equal parts friend and foe.

Even Pliny the Elder weighed in to the dirty blackberry dogfight with the opinion: “the blackberry’s habit of spreading by tip layers (which is a fancy name for a new plant appearing wherever the end of a cane hits the ground) ‘in a manner that would fill up the whole place if resistance were not offered by cultivation’. I believe he reckons the plant is a bit weedy! However, I also note that in the Middle Ages the plants were also used for wine, making blue dye and for medicines especially to soothe the throat and eyes. So again, the blackberry plants are both friend and foe!

The Victorian state government has a website devoted to weeds and blackberry is listed as one of those plants. Of particular interest on that website was the statistic that there are over 2,000 named entities in the Rubus fruticosus aggregate, and that all of the blackberry species in the aggregate that are found in Australia are of European origin. So who knows what the blackberry plants are in your area? All I know is that the blackberry fruit which I pick locally can be turned into jam and wine and it is a real shame to me that the blackberry picking season is now over.

The weedy website can be found here: Agriculture Victoria: A to Z of weeds: Blackberry

As the blackberry fruit is collected, I freeze them until I have enough berries to produce a good quantity of jam and wine

For the past few weeks the editor and I have been picking blackberries from a secluded spot in the local forest. Once the berries are brought back to the kitchen, they are cleaned and frozen until the end of the season, at which point they are converted into jam and wine. And today is that day!

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