Shawnee News-Star Garden Article Becky Emerson Carlberg What brave plant that practically grows at ground level dares to boast brilliant glowing blossoms this time of year?   Even in cold temps, stars of white dot the roadsides. Dewberry (Rubus trivialis) is in the rose family.   This perennial herb can grow in part shade or sun in […]

Shawnee News-Star Garden Article

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Dewberry Bramble

What brave plant that practically grows at ground level dares to boast brilliant glowing blossoms this time of year?   Even in cold temps, stars of white dot the roadsides.

Dewberry (Rubus trivialis) is in the rose family.   This perennial herb can grow in part shade or sun in dry or moist soil.   The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center describes the southern dewberry as a sprawling shrub with woody tangled stems.   Sprawling sounds so undignified.   When I see the flowers boldly open each day despite probable decimation by county mowers, vehicles, foot traffic, dogs or wildlife, I can only admire its tenacity and beauty.

From early leaves through flowering to the final fruit, the convoluted design of the dewberry provides shelter for small critters, its flowers produce pollen and nectar for pollinators and the complex small berries can be eaten by wildlife/humans.

The Xerxes Society for Invertebrate Conservation notes the dewberry is of special value to our native bumble bees and furnishes nesting materials and structure for the native bees.   The arching stems support many flowers and berries.   The southern dewberry prefers to grow in the Mississippi Valley region eastward to the Atlantic seaboard.   Other dewberry species include the Northern, Swamp, Pacific, and European types.

The Boysenberry, an aggregate fruit (as is the raspberry and blackberry) is actually a cross between the European raspberry and blackberry, loganberry (itself a cross between a blackberry and raspberry) and the American dewberry. Quite a list of ancestors which have given Boysenberries a tantalizing flavor.

In the early 1920's, Rudolph Boysen, a California grower, got his hands on a loganberry/dewberry parent plant.   His plant experiments did not pan out and the vines were abandoned.   Walter Knott, berry expert, was told of these plants by USDA scientist George Darrow.   George had heard about large, reddish-purple berries being grown at this one farm. The two men found Boysen's old farm, located some less-than-robust vines and transplanted them to Knott's farm.   They sprang into health and the vigorous plants produced a popular fruit people found tasty.   Knott's farm soon turned to fruit, pie, and preserve production and became known as Knott's Berry Farm.   By the 1990's, the Berry Farm had turned into an amusement park.   Similar to what happened in McLoud OK.

McLoud blackberry growers sent President Harry Truman their blackberries.   He was so impressed he declared McLoud OK 'Official Blackberry Capital of the World' in 1949.   Commercial production has been discontinued for decades.   The berries still live in backyards and along roads.   Butfor over 80 years the McLoud Blackberry Festival has continued, with blackberries, although they come from elsewhere.   This year's date:   July 6-7.

The problem with the Boysenberry is that it did not store nor ship well.   The delicate skins rupture and leak juice, making the fruits susceptible to fungal infections.   People are not turned onto green fuzzy fruit unless it's a Kiwi.

Today, commercially produced Boysenberries come from Oregon and California.   New Zealand is top producer and exporter of Boysenberries.   It is through the Boysenberry jam, pie, or ice cream our sophisticated taste buds can detect the dewberry in or out of season.    With great anticipation I await the fruits to develop.   Dewberries have such a delicate flavor and are the harbingers of ripe blackberries (Rubus argutus), their relatives, that will arrive on the scene a month later.

Dewberries are hardy in USDA zones 6-9; blackberry zones are 5-10.   Both berry vines have sharp prickles people love to call thorns.   Remember, thorns are thwarted shoots but prickles sprout from the epidermal skin that not only serve as defensive mechanisms but help prop the canes up off the ground. Both berry species grow fast and their brambles can indeed take over an area if left undisturbed.   Cut back the fruit-producing canes in the autumn.   Monitor your berries and everybody will be happy, including the chiggers. Chiggers also love dewberries and blackberries.

Adult chiggers, also known as harvest mites, overwinter in the soil.   They are bright red but so small you barely see them. The females emerge in spring to lay eggs in the leaf litter, rotting logs and berry briars.   The eggs hatch and the larvae climb the vines and wait for you (or some mammal that expires carbon dioxide) at the very places you will stand while popping ripe, juicy berries into your mouth.    The chigger clambers onto your skin, begins to suck and eventually drops off, full and happy.   It only stays on the surface of the skin, so if you suspect a chigger encounter, wash and scrub the skin with warm water and clothes in hot water. The enzymes the chigger secretes cause the welts, itchiness and maddening irritation that stays with you for days.

Chiggers aren't out yet.   When the temperatures rise and remain over 60 degrees F, the little mites become activated. Choose dewberries.   They ripen before the temps usually warm up and if chiggers are present, they will only feast on your feet and ankles.

Upcoming event; the exceptional Multi-County Master Gardener Plant Sale at Pottawatomie County Extension Grounds:   9-3 on Saturday May 12th.

Mark your calendars!