The (not at all elusive) Himalayan Blackberry

When we were assigned to write about a plant in botany, one which was resilient in some way, it was recommended we write about a plant we like. So with little hesitation I chose my favorite plant, the blackberry. The fruit I remembered picking off the side of the road in my childhood. The delicious yum that lead me to create a “picking belt” for so I would have all my picking tools in one, easily accessible place. (side note, this belt is fabulous, I will give more details in a later article). I have so much knowledge about this plant, weird facts, yummy memories, and it was an alluring factor when we bought our home. “You mean I can walk 20′ from my back door in my pjs and pick berries for breakfast?” Yeah, blackberries are the shit.

Close in on blackberries growing in among brambles. you can see green, red, and then the ripe black fruit
The many colours of the “black” “berry” (fun fact, while blackberries aren’t actually berries, bananas are!)

Anyway, in choosing the blackberry for this assignment I got so much knowledge out of it, I figured I could share it with you. I’ve added notes here and there so that it is more easily understood, but the general tone remains academic.

5 petal white/pink flowers growing in blackberry thicket, with some morning glory evident.
Here you can see the key ID to determine that this plant belongs in the rose family with the apple and the almond (Yup, those are related to roses too!). The petals (or the corolla, which is the name for the petals as a whole) are in multiples of 5, they are radially symmetrical, and contain many many stamen (the pollen producing part of the flower).

Belonging to the Rosaceae family, the Rubus armeniacus, commonly known as the Himalayan blackberry, is a perennial, often invasive, woody shrub with biennial brambles covered in prickles and alternately arranged compound, oftentimes evergreen, leaves. (CABI, 20201) R. armenicaus produces flowers in the spring which aid in the identification of its family, as the pink-white corollas consist of five petals, a superior ovary, and hundreds of stamen. The flowers are arranged in clusters of five to twenty at the end of terminal panicles. (B. Klinkenberg (editor) 20202). When the fruit appears in midsummer, they are mis-named as berries, as the fruit are truly aggregate drupelets and are red to black in colour. (M. Hoshovsky, 20173)

the Himalayan blackberry, is a perennial, often invasive, woody shrub with biennial brambles

In layman’s terms this means that while the blackberry is a persistant plant (like a tree or a shrub), the brambles the crown grows only live for to years. There’s more on that below

While the common name is a misnomer, with both “Himalayan” and “berry” being false (having not originated in the Himalayas), the scientific name, Rubus armeniacus is aptly applied, as the plant is thought to have originated from Eurasia. This being said, the plant can now be found all over the world in temperate regions with mild winters.

view across the midsection of a blackberry thicket, displaying leaves and thorns and the odd fruit
Here you can see some arching brambles. These have been growing for who knows how many years so this thicket sits around 5′ high in the dead of winter when not actively growing

This being said, the plant can now be found all over the world in temperate regions with mild winters.

so basically, vancouver coastal region is the perfect setting for the black berry, if you hadn’t figured that out yet.

R. armeniacus have a fair number of elements that work together to create a resilient plant, most notably of all, its ability to spread. The aggregate fruit of the blackberry heavily lends to its reproduction, as the sweet fruit filled with many seeds are a favourite to birds and other wildlife, which is evident when the masses of blackberry thickets can be commonly found beneath birds’ perches. The seeds also carry well in water and have generally a high germination rate1. Another way for the thicket to spread is through it’s brambles, which bend after reaching a height of approximately 40cms, and once a node reaches the ground, it will easily root and create new crowns for the shrub3. There has been reporting of a single propagated cane forming a five metre in diameter thicket within a two year growing period1.

There has been reporting of a single propagated cane forming a five metre in diameter thicket within a two year growing period1.

So what this means is unless you’re ready to be on top of controling this type of blackberry, do not think about planting it!

Another notable characteristic which lends to the R. armeniacus’ resiliency are the arching biennial brambles themselves. The cane, covered in thorn-like prickles which persist through its death, makes the quick spreading plant more troublesome to remove, oftentimes, mechanical devices need to be brought in to do much damage to the surface plant. The fact that the brambles are biennial are an important factor to the plant’s growth, as dead brambles lend to adequate structure for the new brambles to clamber over; without them, the shrub wouldn’t be able to exceed half a metre in height without support from other plant life. 

The plant’s ability to reproduce and spread would be nothing without its unspecific needs. The roots of the R. armeniacus are known to prefer no specific soil structure and will thrive in acidic or basic soils, happily. They have also shown resiliency for temperature, as they survive in climates as cold as -17*C and as warm as 37*C1. While it may prefer wetter climates, in climates with less than 760mm of rainfall, you can find the brambles of this blackberry along waterways, and it has demonstrated that it is also comfortable with seasons of drought, using water rapidly when it’s available and using it sparingly and effectively acquiring it when there is little water available. Ultimately, ensuring the R. armeniacus is provided with full to low sunlight, it will easily thrive. It will not, however, survive under dense canopies1.

Photo showing the different stages of flowing and fruit growth of the Blackberry plant
I love this photo because it shows you many stages of the growing fruit; buds of new flowers, fully opened flowers, green berries emerging from a swaddle of stamen, and larger green berries taking on their shape

Ultimately, ensuring the R. armeniacus is provided with full to low sunlight, it will easily thrive.

This tells you that even if you’re a serial plant killer, you can sucessfully grow an invasive blackberry!

The Himalayan blackberry is a highly resilient plant which will kill other plants by either crowding their roots or by robbing them of adequate light, it uses its own death to help it climb and spread to new heights, and it will grow nearly anywhere in temperate regions. While the Rubus armeniacus may be classified as invasive, it’s difficult to not admire its ability to survive and thrive.

References

1 CABI Invasive Species Compendium (2020) “Rubus armeniacus (Himalayan blackberry)”
https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/116780
2 Klinkenberg, Brian (editor) (2020) “E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia” [eflora.bc.ca] Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver
3 Marc Hoshovsky, “Rubus armeniacus” Global Invasive Species Team, The Nature Conservancy, Bugwood Wiki
https://wiki.bugwood.org/Rubus_armeniacus

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