By David Hawke -- It’s berry picking time and there is often opportunity to indulge in a bit of trailside nibbling. While I am usually loath to wander into the topic of edible wild (especially mushrooms) the juicy fruits of the raspberries are unmistakable.
If you do choose to pick a few, please consider the bigger picture: these delightful fruits are actually made to carry the seeds of future generations of raspberries. The fleshy coating is there to protect the seed by providing some moisture, both on the stem and when it falls to the ground. But then again, many seeds are transported from Site A to Site B via the poop of a bird or mammal, so the tasty part is helpful to get the attention of a song sparrow or wild turkey.
Remember to take no more than a third of the available fruits, leaving a third for wildlife to eat and a third for reproduction. If the trail is busy, some folks suggest a one-quarter rule, thus leaving some for the next group of hikers to also enjoy.
This past spring saw a proliferation of blossoms and the resulting pollination spree performed by the insects at that time is now paying off. If you can tolerate a few brambly scratches, the reward can be a tasty treat provided by nature. There are several species of raspberries in our area, so here’s a rundown of the ones likely to be encountered:
Red Raspberry: About waist high with fleshy red fruits. While the plant itself may be quite lush with foliage their fruits are scattered somewhat sparsely. Growing tips have a three-parted leaf. Stems have moderate thorns, so short pants are not advised. Ready and ripe in mid-July.
Black-cap Raspberry: Knee to waist high with dark black clustered fruits. Starts as hard red berry and ripens to soft black. Not as fleshy as red raspberry but very flavourful. If the fruit “falls off” into your fingers they are ripe, if you have to “pull it off” it will be under-ripe and quite tart. Black-caps are seedy so best method of eating is to mash a few berries with your tongue against the roof of your mouth. Be prepared to be picking seeds from between your teeth for remainder of hike. Ready in late July.
Thimbleberry: These have really thorny canes and can grow quite high, often chest to head height. Leaves are large and five-parted. Fruits are in abundant clusters, starting off green and slowly ripening to dark blue-black. Very fleshy but like the black-caps need to “fall off” with a gentle twist if actually ripe enough to eat. Berries are each about the size of a thumb-nail. While a small container can be filled with ease, again remember that birds and mammals are also hoping to eat these berries as an important component of their diet.
A note about the big thimbleberry: it is an introduced species that has gone wild. Like so many other plant species that have jumped the garden wall it has done well in establishing itself across the landscape. While not labelled as invasive it can certainly be aggressive in establishing itself around old stumps and neglected fence lines.
Dwarf Raspberry: Found in wet places is the much smaller dwarf raspberry, well-named due to its diminutive size. Berries are bright red and fleshy, looking very similar to its cousin the red raspberry. Fruits are edible but realize that they are also scarce… so maybe leave them for the mice, deer, songbirds and bears.
Oh, did I say bears? Well, there’s always the local Farmer’s Market for berry backup!
David’s Notebook: Bit of rain, bit of sun, bit of heat... sounds like a simple recipe to grow things. This year the blackberries are abundant on our farm.
© 2020 David J. Hawke