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Another blackberry winter

Close inspection will reveal the green ‘baby’ blackberry fruit in the center of the white petals. Photo by Ken Moore

By Ken Moore

It’s early May and the blackberry “brambles” are brightening field edges and roadsides with masses of pure white flowers. When these same blackberry flower-filled days and nights are really, really chilly, the old timers refer to it as “Blackberry Winter.” That description certainly is appropriate for this early May in and around Carrboro. Blackberry flowers (Rubus argutus is the most common of about a dozen edible blackberry species in our state) are particularly beautiful this year, perhaps due to the cool temperatures prolonging their freshness. Or perhaps my pronouncement is the result of over-stimulation by the excessive masses of flowering brambles beginning to overtake more than the edges of my wild garden. Well, very few would describe my yard a “garden” since nature is far more in charge than am I.

Have you ever taken a close look at the flowers of a blackberry? It really is quite beautiful. After all, it is in the rose family, and with all those thorns it must have something wonderful to protect. Five pure white petals, sometimes flushed with pink, surround an emerald-green center, which upon closer inspection you will recognize as tiny blackberry fruit beginning a two-month-long journey to becoming a fully ripened and very tasty berry during the week of the Fourth of July, the traditional blackberry picking season here in the South.

If you don’t have a wild berry bramble in your landscape, you can visit one along the paved walkway of the Frances Shetley Bikeway behind Carrboro Elementary School. There a few of the members of the Carrboro Community Garden Club make certain that a portion of that loosely controlled garden of wildflowers and native vines and grasses and shrubs contains a blackberry thicket for walkers to enjoy the flowers now and try to beat the birds to the berries in mid-summer.

This native blackberry is a vigorous grower and would take over much of the wild garden if not regularly thinned. Care is taken to leave a good number of this year’s non-fruiting stems, as they are the canes that will bear flowers and berries next year.

It may surprise you that blackberries make a fine flower arrangement for indoor use. Though a sturdy pair of garden gloves makes the cutting and arranging a less prickly affair, very few folks go out of their way to treat themselves to such an unexpected floral display.

Blackberries are one of the most nutritious of our native fruits. I’m eagerly anticipating a bountiful midsummer harvest from my very own backyard berry brambles. There is, however, the “pucker factor” – that this summer’s predicted drought will deny the quantity of rainfall necessary for a plentiful crop of well-developed fruit, and I’m not about to test my well by watering the yard.

However, this year I do intend to get into my own wild berry thicket with a little more control in order to designate a few managed berry patches to which I may be able to add collected rainwater in future years of drought. Local garden centers have cultivars of blackberries and other tasty fruits; whether with the wild species or one or more cultivars, I encourage you to have your own berry patch. It takes a lot of oil to get those berries to us from the Washington and Oregon berry-producing region, and if the fruit are the result of your own labor you will definitely enjoy them more, and just think of all that potential for floral arrangements.

Pray for rain and plan time for blackberry picking during this year’s Fourth of July break.

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