What is a dewberry?


Photo by Wendy Wilson Billiot

Rushing past thickets of roadside growth, you’ve probably driven by thousands of what might otherwise be considered common briar patches. Upon closer inspection, particularly in February and March when tiny, white, five-petal flowers sprout from these thickets of vines that sprawl unhindered along roadside ditches, wooded areas, and in fields, you’d have been pleasantly surprised to discover otherwise.

This month, those white blossoms will grow into berries—first tiny and green, then, within a couple of weeks, full and nearly black in color. Most folks in South Louisiana refer to these as blackberries, a misnomer for the early-ripening black beauties. They are really dewberries—more specifically, Rubus trivialis, the Southern Dewberry—which abound in South Louisiana and are often mistaken for the blackberry, Rubus argutus.

Although the differences between dewberry vines and blackberry vines are not readily appreciable by the casual observer, a couple of characteristics distinguish the Southern Dewberry from the common blackberry. Dewberries ripen before blackberries, so if you come across ripe berries in April and May, you can trust they are dewberries. Some folks also claim that dewberries are more tart and a little smaller than blackberries.

Stems offer less obvious, but equally reliable, tells. The stems of the dewberry, called primocanes, stand erect the first year and are sterile. The second-year stems, called floricanes, produce flowers and may remain erect, but most often lean toward the ground and trail along, putting out roots at the tip as they continue to spread. Both primocanes and floricanes are covered in prickles, but don’t let that keep you from enjoying your fair share of this free-for-the-picking fruit.

Berry picking is an outdoor event the entire family can enjoy. To make berry picking easy and safe for children, find berry vines that run along fences or the roadside. The best time to go is around mid-April after a rain because the rain sweetens the berries while filling them out to thumb size. Also, bring along a long stick, hoe, or shovel to poke into the thick underbrush before stepping into the berry patch. This scares away any critters that may be hanging out in the cool shade below. Don’t forget your plastic ice cream buckets or small plastic pails for collecting the berries—something with a handle is best. And gardening gloves are a must to protect fingers and backs of hands from the prickles and long-sleeved shirts provide protection while reaching into the underbrush for the choicest fruit.

Lest you lose your picking crew, keep lagging children (and adults for that matter) engaged by reminding them that even a bowlful of berries is enough to make a delicious dewberry cobbler or “dewberry dumplings.” Encourage some eating-off-the vine (Just beware of stink bugs and tiny worms!) or promise them some berries served in a bowl with milk and sugar once you’ve hauled your harvest home.

If you live in an urban area, you will be surprised at the number of berry patches you can find if you just take the time to look. Growing up in the city, my family picked berries every year and we looked forward to the tasty treats they provided us. Once I became a mother, I took my own children berry picking; and to this day, I pick dewberries every year, and make dewberry jelly and jam, like my mother did. To her list of culinary uses, I have added dewberry cordial, while bags of berries go into the freezer for cobblers and dumplings (a link to a recipe is provided below) throughout the year.

For a delicious Dewberry Dumpling recipe, visit bayouwoman.com/dewberry-dumplings.

For more information about all things dewberry, visit http://goo.gl/B4o7q8.

One thing that remains constant in the woods, regardless of the changing seasons, is thorns ripping at my clothes and skin. While many times it is the Multiflora Rose thorns that slow my stride, the guilty party is also frequently the Rubus species plant. There are many different varieties, but I am going to briefly discuss four of them: Black Raspberries, Wine Raspberries, Blackberries and Dewberries.

While typically a nuisance, for the summer hiker it can be a nice surprise. For the mushroom hunter, it provides an alternate prize when the summer rains fail to fall and produce the normal bounty of chanterelles, hedgehogs and black trumpets.

Black Raspberries, Rubus occidentalis

Usually the first species to produce berries in the summer, this “bramble” is frequently found along roads and pathways. Like all raspberries, the center of the berry is hollow since it pulls cleanly off of a “rasp” when it is ripe. This is the main characteristic that helps you differentiate it from a blackberry.

Black Raspberries, Rubus occidentalis Black Raspberries, Rubus occidentalis Black Raspberries, Rubus occidentalis

Wine Raspberries, Rubus phoenicolasius

I picked Wine Raspberries for the first time this year. They are quite delicious. When you first see the thorns on these plants, they look quite vicious. While some of the thorns will still break the skin, most of these “thorns” are less aggressive than they look and resemble brush bristles. When these berries are ripe, they fall off easily and they are slightly sticky to the touch.

Wine Raspberries, Rubus phoenicolasius Wine Raspberries, Rubus phoenicolasius Wine Raspberries, Rubus phoenicolasius Wine Raspberries, Rubus phoenicolasius Wine Raspberries, Rubus phoenicolasius

Blackberries, Rubus pensilvanicus

The blackberry is a mid to late summer berry. It is different from the raspberry because it does not have a hollow center. When it is ripe, the berry easily releases from the stem, but it retains the core plug in its center. Unlike the wine raspberry, the blackberry bushes are quite punishing and their thorns can do some damage to the hasty harvester.

Blackberries, Rubus pensilvanicus Blackberries, Rubus pensilvanicus Blackberries, Rubus pensilvanicus

Dewberries, Rubus flagellaris

Dewberries are very similar to blackberries, but they grow on a vine close to the ground. They are not always easy to spot because they are usually dwarfed by the other plants in the woods. They have a tart flavor that is stronger than a blackberry. You can read more about them here.

Dewberries, Rubus flagellaris Dewberries, Rubus flagellaris Dewberries, Rubus flagellaris Dewberries, Rubus flagellaris Dewberries, Rubus flagellaris Dewberries, Rubus flagellaris

Pickin’ and Grinnin’

Mention blackberries these days, and most people think about the sassy smart phones so beloved in the business world. Apps, e-mails, spreadsheets.

The blackberries I’m talking about grow particularly well throughout Central and East Texas. Some say too well. These tough weeds grow along fences, ditches and railroad tracks, forming dense, thorny thickets ready to snag livestock—and be plundered by happy berry hunters.

Picking berries—blackberries and their cousins, shrubby dewberries—starts summer off on a tasty note. Ask anyone who grew up going on berry-picking expeditions, and reminiscences as sweet as the berries will be shared.

Chiggers and stickers may come to mind first. But then, stories of a beloved grandmother or aunt making jams and cobblers for the family are savored, evoking a slower life long past. You, too, can still make your own memories, along with the cobbler. It’s a taste of summer you’ll never forget.

The Differences

Though subtle, there are differences between dewberry and blackberry plants. The Southern dewberry (Rubus trivalis, the variety that grows well throughout Central and East Texas) is a sprawling shrub with woody, tangled stems that trail along the ground. The blackberry (Rubus fruticosus) is larger and sends up long, arching canes on thorny brambles.

But then some blackberries do trail. After all, as members of the rose family, the berries are related. Even botanists can get stuck trying to classify some species. As they say, it’s a thorny issue. Blackberries and dewberries have prickles, spread prodigiously, produce delicious fruit and provide a great excuse to get out of the house and go foraging in late spring and early summer. Do some fieldwork. Sample, sample, sample.

You’ll be in good company: In his book “Flora and Fauna of the Civil War: An Environmental Reference Guide,” author Kelby Ouchley describes the fervor over berries, including this passage from Union Gen. William T. Sherman’s memoirs: “I have known the entire skirmish line, without orders, to fight a respectable battle for the possession of some old fields full of blackberries.”

A medical treatise from a Civil War surgeon lists blackberries as a powerful astringent used to treat dysentery, diarrhea, kidney stones and snakebite. According to other sources, blackberry leaves have also made a fine, dark hair dye throughout the centuries.

Modern-day medical research shows that blackberries and dewberries are jam-packed with antioxidants that can help prevent cancer and heart disease. Tasty, low-calorie (before the cobbler, anyway!) and super nutritious. What’s not to like? OK. Let’s go berry picking.

Hunt Your Own

One strategy is to scavenge the sunlit ditches and railroad tracks along rural roads. The idea is to tread softly while carrying a big stick to whack the brambles and chase off any snakes that might be snoozing in the shade. Long sleeves protect against thorns. Pants and boots protect against chiggers and mosquitoes. Wearing shorts and sandals is suicidal in chigger-infested territory. To avoid a chigger chow-down starring yourself as dinner, dust a mixture of sulphur and talcum powder on your legs and arms. It’s stinky, but effective.

Stuff your pockets with plastic grocery bags for the harvest. But be careful: You’ll crush the delicate berries on the bottom if you overpack bags.

Pick Your Own

If you don’t have access to wild blackberries and dewberries, a pick-your-own farm provides the thrill of the hunt with virtually guaranteed success. Many Internet sites, such as www.pickyourown.org, list Texas blackberry and dewberry farms.

Children love the excitement of picking their own berries. Adults love it, too, and enjoy getting high-quality, fresh fruit from a known source. Many farms grow berries organically or use minimal pesticides.

Grow Your Own

For some of us highly urban, properly tamed folk, there’s always the backyard. Stumbling out the back door in your bathrobe to hunt down breakfast is one of life’s simple pleasures. A handful of plump, juicy berries still touched by dew, sprinkled with brown sugar and topped with a dollop of yogurt starts any day off well.

Blackberries are super easy to grow. The cultivated wild Southern blackberry comes in many excellent varieties, even thornless. Years ago, no thorns pretty much meant no berries, but I’m asking my local agriculture Extension agent about a thornless variety that will do well in my area.

Head out to the country and enjoy a berry delicious start to a Texas summer.

Suzi Sands, art director

Blackberry Turnovers

2 cups fresh blackberries

1 tablespoon melted butter

1 teaspoon cinnamon or 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger

1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour

1/4 cup granulated or brown sugar, or to taste

2 refrigerated piecrusts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Wash berries and place in bowl. Combine butter and cinnamon or ginger and pour over berries. Mix flour and sugar. Sprinkle over berries and mix gently. Unroll piecrusts and cut into quarters. Put about five coated berries near center of crust in line. Fold over into cone shape and seal edges. Cut two vents in top. Place on baking pan and bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until crust is browned.

This simple recipe takes about 15 minutes of prep time, and it’s a great one for children to make with supervision.

June 2011

This appeared in the June 2011 issue

Blackberry and dewberry are closely related, but they are very different in growth habits and physical characteristics. Dewberry exhibits a low, vine-like, trailing growth habit that forms mats that are rarely taller than 2 feet above the ground. Blackberry typically has an upright rambling growth habit, which can form impenetrable thickets that are often 4- to 6-feet tall.

Stems of dewberry have slender thorns and numerous red hairs, while upright blackberry stems have few to no hairs and numerous hard, broad-based thorns. Dewberry also tend to flower about one to two months earlier in the spring than blackberry.

Mowing or hay cutting alone will not control dewberry or blackberry. It may temporarily reduce the size or top growth of these weeds, but they will rapidly recover.

If blackberry or dewberry has been mowed, best control results have been observed when a herbicide application is made in the following year.

Blackberry and Dewberry are most sensitive to herbicides when blooming in late spring and in the fall prior to frost. Applications made soon after emergence from winter dormancy or during fruit production are generally less effective.

It is also important that the plants are not drought-stressed at the time of herbicide application.

Make sure the sprayer is properly calibrated, and always read and follow directions on the herbicide label of any product you use. You will likely need to retreat for several years to get on top of the problem. Similar to many other pasture weeds, both blackberry and dewberry species may form persistent seed banks in the soil, and the roots are difficult to completely kill with any management approach. However, with persistence, these weeds can be effectively managed.

Select Herbicide Options:

• Chaparral (will kill bahiagrass)

• Cimarron Plus (will kill bahiagrass)

• RemedyUltra

• Pasturegard HL

• Surmount

Note that Pasturegard HL, RemedyUltra and Surmount may be less effective if mowing has occurred within a year prior to treatment for either species.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension photo

Dewberry stem.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension photo

Dewberry plant with ripe fruit.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension photo

Blackberry plant.


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Dewberry is an umbrella term for a group of plant types. The dewberry plant is closely related to the blackberry and raspberry plant and are considered a trailing berry species. The plant is classified as a trailing berry plant and is known to spread out over the ground. The shrubs can easily be contained with lattice work, and occasional tiebacks are allowed. The dewberry is native to the Northern Hemisphere and can be found in the wild. Many property owners remove them thinking they are a nuisance weed.

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When ripe, they are somewhat reminiscent of flavor to the raspberry. The berries change in color as they mature. They begin as small green berries. As they grow, they turn red, and eventually black.
Unlike many berry species, the Dewberry has a bale and female plant. In the plant world, this is referred to as dioecious, meaning that each plant has a mother and a father plant. They cannot reproduce on their own, and the characteristics of either parent can affect the specific characteristics of the offspring.

Affordable Dewberry Shrub For Every Landscape

After the leaves start to turn green, the shrub will develop small white flowers. Over time, these white flowers become small, hard, green berries. Over time, these green berries turn into softer, sour red berries, and eventually into more abundant, soft purple berries. The leaves are green in color and are easy prey for small larvae. The dark brown stems typically covered with small thorns, or stickers, to keep small animals from harming the plant while they are preying on the sweet berries.
After the berries have turned purple, they can be eaten raw or used in recipes. The leaves can also be used to make tea.

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«Texas» – Organic Dewberry Seeds

  • Organic Dewberry “Texas”

    Dewberries are similar to blackberries, except they are larger and milder, ripen 7-10 days earlier, and grow on a vine rather than a bush. Large 1″ by 1 1/2″ glossy, blue-black berries are sweet and delicious. 2-year-old plants are shipped. Blooms: spring, Ripens: mid-June.
    It is easy to grow in zones 6,7,8 and 9. They require at least several hours of full sun every day for best growth and will thrive in nutrient dense soil that is well drained.
    Because the dewberry plant roots will tend to grow horizontally, they should be planted about 4 feet from each other, so it is best to plan your garden and landscaping space before planting. Once the plant is rooted, it is a deficient maintenance plant that needs only occasional watering during winter, fall and spring. Dewberry plants are drought resistant during the summer months, but the soil should be kept moist to maintain excellent plant growth.
    Dewberry plants add a lovely visual element to any garden. Their trailing vines can grow up to 4 feet and spread up to 4 feet. The plant will produce fruit in 4 to 5 years after it matures. In early spring, the dewberry plant will grow small white flowers that will turn into tiny green berries. In late spring, the berries turn deep reddish purple and are ready to eat. The berries are sweet and can be used for pies, cobblers, jam or enjoyed fresh off the vine. The leaves can also be used for a refreshing tea.
    In the winter the dewberry leaves turn a stunning shade of red. Since the dewberry plant is a perennial, you will be able to enjoy the fruit for years to come. The shiny green pointed leaves of the plant will add a lively, woodsy feel to your front or backyard. The plant also provides a lovely habitat for birds, bees, and other wildlife.

What Are Dewberries: Tips For Growing Dewberry Plants

Living in the Pacific Northwest as I do, we often go berry picking in the latter part of summer. Our berry of choice, the blackberry, can be found poking out of the nooks and crannies of concrete highways, throughout the many green spaces of the city and out in the suburbs. Similarly growing dewberry plants abound in the eastern areas of Canada and the United States. So for those of us unfamiliar, “What are dewberries?” Keep reading to learn more.

What are Dewberries?

To answer the question, “What are dewberries?” it’s helpful to look at the difference between dewberry and blackberry. While they are both trailing berry producing plants whose propensity for growth nears that of a weed, growing dewberry plants have a more shrub-like habit as opposed to the upright 3-6 foot vines of the blackberry.

The berries of dewberry plants are purplish red, similar to raspberries, and the seeds are much larger and tougher than those of the blackberry. The trailing habit of growing dewberry plants attains a height of only about 2 feet or so and has slender

thorns upon red-haired stems. While I harvest blackberries in the Pacific Northwest late in the summer, dewberries are ripe early in the spring, around late April to the first part of May.

Grown in the wild, dewberries tend to be slightly more acidic than blackberries and can be turned into jam or “deep pies” or even harvested for homeopathic remedies utilizing the leaves and roots of the plants.

Dewberry Planting

When dewberry planting, you will want to keep in mind that these plants have large lateral growing root systems that spread and interconnect, creating a perennial thicket. So when you decide you want to add dewberry plants, consider the amount of space you will need and the plants potential invasiveness. Growing dewberry plants also propagate from both seed drop and rhizomes – just sayin’.

Dewberry plants can be obtained as seedlings or cuttings from the local nursery or from a wild patch of dewberries. Prepare the soil in the designated area, which should get several hours of direct sun each day.

Dig a hole that is large enough for the root ball of the dewberry planting, at least a foot deep. Put the dewberry planting in the hole, cover with dirt and pat gently around plant base. If you are planting more than one dewberry plant, space the plants at least 4 feet apart.

Water around the planting until the soil is moist and add a layer of mulch around the base to retain moisture. Set up a trellis or train the dewberry planting to grow on a fence or the like, tying the branches with a piece of string or twist tie.

Care of Dewberries

Very little is required to take care of dewberries. They are a hardy perennial that needs very little attention. You may want to fertilize growing dewberries once they have been established and have grown several inches, although these hardy plants do not require amending the soil.

Keep in mind that it takes four to five years for growing dewberry plants to mature enough to fruit.

Scientific name: Rubus species
Abundance: plentiful
What: flowers, berries
How: open mouth, insert flower/fruit, then chew. seep flowers/young leaves in hot water for tea
Where: Sunny wastelands, borders between woods and fields. Dewberry plants grow as a low, horizontal ground cover.
When: Spring
Other uses: wine, jelly, tea, wine
Nutritional Value: carbohydrates, vitamin C; small amount of minerals and vitamins A & B
Dangers: sharp thorns
Medicinal Summary:
Root/Leaves – anti-diarrheal, soothes gastrointestinal inflammations, soothes skin inflammations (tisane)
Ripe fruit.

Unripe fruit.

Dewberry flowers.

Close-up of dewberry flower.

Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

Dewberry vines can be found overrunning just about any sunny or shady open area. The dewberry plant creeps along the ground as a thorny vine as opposed to blackberries which grow in the form of an upright cane. Dewberries are common along Texas roadsides, fields, abandoned land, and woodland paths. The vines are quite thin, having diameters not much larger than the a pencil lead, but are tough and grow into impassable mats. The sweetest fruits will be found in areas that receive full sun but also plenty of water.
A delicious tea can be made from dewberry flowers in the spring and its young leaves spring/summer/fall. I recommend using the leaves rather than flowers so not to reduce the amount of fruit produced. For tea pick young healthy leaves in late morning after any dew has dried but before the sun has had a chance to evaporate the volatile flavoring oils out of the leaves. Dry the leaves before use for a richer flavor as that will allow the cell walls to break down some, allowing the flavoring agents to escape the cells into your cup. The combination of dewberry and yaupon holly leaves makes a most excellent and vitamin-rich tea rich.
Buy my book! Idiots Guide Foraging covers 70 of North America’s tastiest and easy to find wild edibles shown with the same big pictures as here on the Foraging Texas website.


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