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.
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.
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.
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.