How to find blackberries, black raspberries and black dewberries

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blackberries

Picking blackberries has always been one of my favorite summer pastimes. It seems like the season lasts forever and there are always tons of places to find them growing. It didn’t dawn on me until recently that it’s actually pretty strange how plentiful the fruit is and how long the season lasts.

I purchased a wild fruits and berries field guide a couple of weeks ago because of my daughter’s interest in foraging. I thought she would learn so much from it, already having an interest. Turns out, I have a lot to learn too.

One of my first discoveries was that not all black berries are actually blackberries. In Northeast Ohio, we are actually fortunate enough to have blackberries, black raspberries and black dewberries. Just as one berry’s season is coming to an end another is already beginning. As long as you can beat the birds, you can probably find fresh black berries all summer long.

Early to midsummer

Black raspberries are the first of the black berries to ripen in early to midsummer. This is generally the end of June or beginning of July. If you’re lucky, you may be able to find them throughout July — we found some last week — but it’s unlikely the birds will leave them alone that long.

Where they grow

berry bushes near edge of corn field
Blackberry, black raspberry and black dewberry bushes growing at the edge of a cornfield.

Black raspberries grow in disturbed areas — logged areas; open woods; meadows; along streams, lakes, trails and roads. Our honey hole runs along the outskirts of a cornfield, up against a wooded area.

What they look like

Although it’s easy to mistake black raspberries for other black compound fruits, they do have their own distinguishing qualities.

Plant. Black raspberries grow in brambles — sprawling, vining shrubs. Their canes (stems) can grow up to 6 feet long and generally arch. The round canes have sharp curved thorns.

Leaves. Black raspberry plants have alternate compound leaves. The leaves usually have three leaflets, or sometimes five, with the center leaflet extending on a stemlet. The other leaflets attach directly to the stem. The leaflets can be distinguished by toothy edges with a pointed tip and round base. The leaves can grow up to 3 inches long.

black raspberry
Black raspberry.

Fruit. Black raspberries are distinguished from other black compound fruits by their more tightly clustered flesh; the appearance of finer, more numerous white hairs and a hollow center. They will grow up to 1/2 inch across, turning from green to yellowish to salmon to bright red to purple to purplish-black over the course of the ripening process.

Midsummer

Although black raspberries can be found into midsummer they are usually not as plentiful as black dewberries, which are fully ripened and plentiful throughout July.

Where they grow

There are so many varieties of native black dewberries, that they can be found in many different places. The two most common varieties are the swamp and smooth dewberries. The swamp dewberry likes to grow in and around bogs, as it’s name suggests. The smooth dewberry has similar preferences to the black raspberry. It prefers fields, forest clearings, thickets and streambanks.

What they look like

black dewberries
Black dewberry plants have weaker stems and grow closer to the ground than black raspberries and blackberries.

Plant. Although black dewberries share habitats with both black raspberries and blackberries, they grow very differently. Rather than rising erect, like the other two plants, dewberries sprawl along the ground forming a low-growing, vining shrub. Their stems are woody but weak, and they often develop roots. Smooth dewberry stems have curved pickles, while swamp dewberry stems are covered with fine bristles.

Leaves. Like black raspberries and blackberries, black dewberries have alternate compound leaves, but the shape of its leaves are unique. They are usually hairy to touch and about three inches long. They are more rounded near the top than the other two plants and they have sharper teeth around the edges.

black dewberries
Black dewberries.

Fruit. Black dewberries look a lot like blackberries, but their fruit is slightly smaller at 1/4 to 1/2 inch across. Unlike blackberries; however, they have a hull and are hollow when picked. In this aspect, they resemble black raspberries. During the ripening process, dewberries go from green to red to glossy black or purplish-black.

Mid to late Summer

As black dewberries become more sparse later in summer, blackberries are just arriving at peak season.

Where they grow

Blackberries, like both black raspberries and black dewberries, prefer to grow in disturbed areas along fields, pastures, forest clearings, thickets, paths, roadsides, streams, ponds and lakes.

What they look like

large blackberry bramble
Large blackberry bramble.

Plant. Blackberry plants are the largest of the three. They grow in brambles like black raspberries, forming sprawling, vining shrubs. However, they are much larger plants with canes that grow up to 8 feet in length. Their canes are also distinguished by being more rigid than black raspberry canes with a star-shaped cross-section rather than a round one. They also have more thorns than black raspberries.

Leaves. Blackberries, like black raspberries and black dewberries, have alternate compound leaves. They look a lot like black raspberry leaves especially, with toothy edges, sharply pointed tips and round bottoms. The leaves also contain three to five leaflets with a longer center leaflet extending on a stemlet, like the black raspberry. However, instead of three inches, blackberry leaves grow up to five inches long.blackberries

Fruit. Blackberries are about a 1/2 inch across and somewhat longer than black raspberries and dewberries. The other distinguishing feature is that the fruit is not hollow. The core remains inside the picked blackberry. During their ripening process, blackberries go from green to red to glossy black.

Tips for picking black berries

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for the informative article. I am interested in finding a speaker who could present a program at Salem Public library in Salem, OH about blackberries and other berries. Could you suggest a resource to find a speaker or could you suggest a person close to Salem, OH who could present a talk.

    Thank you for your time and assistance.
    Teresa Rhodes
    Marketing and Outreach Coordinator
    Salem Public Library

    • I would contact the Columbiana Soil & Water Conservation District to see if anyone there would be willing to put together a presentation or if they can point you in the direction of someone in the area who would.

      Here is their info:

      Columbiana Soil & Water Conservation District
      1834-B South Lincoln Ave
      Salem, Ohio 44460
      330.332.8732

      Hours: Monday-Friday 7:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.

  2. I’m interested in the book you got about berries. I am in my first summer in our new house and we have five+ acres with berries all over. Some might be black dewberries, but I’m not sure.

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