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
WILD BLACKBERRIES, RASPBERRIES AND STRAWBERRIES
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
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
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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Update: June 2012