Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Wild Blackberries, Raspberries and Strawberries
Nature Bulletin No. 721   June 8, 1963
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
David H. Thompson, Senior Naturalist

Summertime means berry-picking time to a lot of forest preserve visitors. Some merely pop an especially tempting one into the mouth as they stroll along. Others go out in family groups, year after year, and pick berries all day long in favorite spots that they try to keep secret. In seasons with plenty of moisture they often take home gallons of wild blackberries for making jelly, jam and pie -- or for eating fresh with sugar and cream. Wild strawberries and raspberries are picked in pints or quarts rather than gallons.

Almost every forest preserve from one end of Cook County to the other has areas well suited for wild berries. The strawberry ripens all through June. It produces its best fruit in sunny meadows and on open slopes with poor soils. Raspberries are ready to pick in late June and early July, and blackberries from mid-July to mid-August. Both of the latter thrive on former farmlands which have grown up in thickets and bramble patches from seeds dropped by birds; also on roadsides and the edges of woodlands. Blackberries are much more abundant than raspberries. However, both are scarce on the flood plains of the DesPlaines River and other stream courses.

In quality of flavor, our common Wild Strawberry is among the choicest in the world. Crossed with a South American species, it is an ancestor of several large-fruited cultivated varieties. However, these cannot compare in deliciousness with our little wild berry. In addition to occasional propagation by seed, strawberries multiply by sending out long creeping "runners" which take root and start new plants where they touch the ground. Thus, in a few years, a large patch can grow from a single plant.

Our Raspberry, or Black Cap, is a prickly shrub that follows a regular cycle of growing, fruiting and dying. In its first year tall leafy stalks called "canes" grow up from the root. Next year these canes bear flowers and fruit -- then die. Some canes arch over, take root where their tips touch the ground a yard or two away and form new clumps. Traveling in this way, step by step, it could be called the Walking Berry.

Likewise, the tall canes of the Blackberry bloom and yield berries only in their second year. Dense thorny thickets of them are formed by new canes sprouting from far-spreading roots. The Dewberry, a kind of blackberry with large juicy berries, crawls over the ground in viny tangles.

The easiest way to tell raspberries and blackberries apart is by the berries and the canes. As they mature, the fruits of both change color from green to red to deep purplish black. However, the ripe raspberry is a cup that slips from a central knob or core. In the blackberry the core is part of the ripe fruit. The cross-section of a blackberry cane is a five-pointed star. The raspberry's is circular. Also, the latter is dusted with a silvery powder that rubs off with the touch of a finger.

Wild berries are a special treat enjoyed by people only a few times a year. For many kinds of wildlife, on the other hand, berries have top rank in their summer diet. Particularly prominent among the berry- eaters are such songbirds as the cardinal, robin, oriole, tanager, catbird, brown thrasher and towhee. Quantities of berries are eaten by foxes, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks and white-footed deer mice, as well as by box turtles and land snails.

The thorny thickets of blackberry and raspberry offer safe places for small summer birds to nest and, in winter, protect rabbits and mice from their enemies -- the owl hawk and fox.

What is green when it is red? A BLACKBERRY!

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