FLORIDA NATIVE BLACKBERRIES

 Peggy A. Gretchen FNPS Member Pasco Master Gardener


Botanical Name: 1) Rubus argutus, syn. R. pensilvanicus, syn. R. betulifolius,
syn. R. floridus. 2) Rubus cuneifolius. 3) Rubus flagellaris. 4) Rubus trivialis.
Common Name:
1) Sawtooth Blackberry, Highbush Blackberry, Pennsylvania Blackberry, Florida Blackberry.
2) Sand Blackberry.
3) Northern Dewberry.
4) Southern Dewberry.
Family: Rosaceae (Rose)


Type of Plant: Native, deciduous shrubby perennials, often with short, sharp, stiff, curved “prickles” or thorns. Showy and edible flowers and fruits, providing excellent wildlife value. Sucker extensively. There are 4 native blackberries in Florida, 3 species of which are native to Central Florida: the Sawtooth Blackberry, Sand Blackberry and Southern Dewberry. The Sawtooth and Sand Blackberries have a generally erect habit, but highly variable forms. The Sawtooth is distinguished by ridged and grooved stems, arching or clambering (vinelike). The Dewberries have a trailing or prostrate vinelike habit, unarmed or armed with numerous prickles, often rooting at the tips of trailing stems. Distinguished by flowering stems conspicuously pubescent with purplish-red hairs, not requiring magnification. There is significant hybridization among our native blackberries. Height: The Sawtooth Black-berry is erect to about 5 – 9 ft. The Sand Blackberry is erect to about 3 – 4.5 ft. The trailing/prostrate Dewberries are low-growing to about 3 ft. in height, but with long-growing stems up to 10 – 15 ft. in length. Width: Will trail up to 10 – 15 ft. and sucker exten-sively.


How to Identify:
Leaves: Alternate, palmately compound with 3 – 5 leaflets. Sawtooth leaves are about 2-4 in. long, petioles (leaf/leaflet stalks) are long and prickly. Sawtooth leaves usually have 5 leaflets on the main stem, and 3 on the flowering/fruiting branches; elliptic to broadly lanceolate with sharply toothed (serrate) margins; green undersides, smooth or hairy, but without the whitish pubescence (hairs) seen on the Sand Blackberry, which usually has 3 leaflets on the main stem, sometimes 5, and on the flowering/fruiting branches. The Sand Blackberry is distinguished from the other native blackberries by this dense covering of soft, short, whitish hairs, known as pubescence, on the undersides of its leaves, which is felt-like to the touch. The leaflets are obovate, oblanceolate, or spatulate, with margins coarsely toothed (serrate). The Northern Dewberry has 3 - 5 leaflets, and is distinguished by leaflets of main stem being ovate, serrate, and often displaying basal lobing – lower 2 leaflets are lobed, usually on one side or the other. The Southern Dewberry has mostly 5 leaflets, sometimes 3, which are elliptic to lanceolate and serrate with green undersides on stems with robust thorns and red-purple hairs.
Tobe, Dr. John D. et al., Florida Wetland Plants An Identification Manual, Tallahassee, Florida, Florida Department of Environ-mental Protection, 1998.
Wunderlin, Richard P., Guide to the Vascular Plants of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, University Press of Florida, 1998.
Flowers: Showy, white or pinkish, 5 petals, numerous stamens, about 1 – 2 in. across, borne singly or in loose clusters near ends of branches. Produced on stems from the previous year. Flowering stems of Sawtooth and Sand Blackberry have sparse to non-existent prickles, whereas those of the Southern Dewberry are quite spiny/thorny. Flowering Time: Mostly in Late Winter – Spring:
1. Sawtooth: March – April.
2. Sand: March – May.
3. Northern Dewberry: April – May.
4. Southern Dewberry: February – April, earlier than most others.

Fruit: Showy, edible by humans and wildlife (sweet and juicy), about 1 inch, deep purple-black berries. Not a true berry. Each “berry” is a tight aggregate of tiny fruits, each with its own tiny seed, called drupelets. Produced on stems (canes) from previous year. In Central Florida, fruits ripen typically in late May or early June, but can ripen as early as late March, turning red and then black at maturity.
Habitat:
1. Common in wet hammocks, stream banks, pond margins, and swamps. Also in disturbed sites, roadsides, fields, & fence lines.
2. Common in sandhills and flatwoods. Also in upland mixed woodlands, sandy thickets, and disturbed sites.
3. Occasional in open hammocks, sandhills, and flatwoods.
4. Common in a variety of habitats, from dry open hammocks to wet hammocks (woods) and woodland edges, pine flatwoods, thickets, roadsides and ditches, suburban yards, fields, and fence lines.
Landscape Use / Wildlife Benefit: The Sawtooth, Sand, and Southern Dewberry native blackberries make for an interesting and useful groundcover in Central Florida. Use them in naturalistic landscapes or in areas where the suckering can be effectively con-trolled – need plenty of room! They provide exceptionally valuable wildlife habitat, both for cover and for food. The spring flowers are showy and attract Florida butterflies (small, medium, and large), native bees, and other pollinators for nectar and pollen. Black-berries are of special value in providing cover and nesting for native bees and other pollinators. Spring and summer fruits (the blackberries!) attract birds and mammals for food. If you would like some too, get there first! They are delicious eaten out of hand, or in cobblers, pies, jams, and jellies. Fresh or dried leaves may also be used to make tea. The weather in spring, especially the rain-fall, makes a big difference in berry production and taste. Some years may be unproductive, with tiny, dry fruits; however, every few years berries are numerous, fat, juicy, and sweet.
Cultivation:
Soil: Most prefer sandy to organic, fertile, and well-drained. Sawtooth likes wetter soils. Southern Dewberry is very adaptable, from dry to wet, but prefers mesic (moist) sites.
Light: Full Sun best - Partial Shade. Will flower and fruit better with more sun, but will need more water.
Water: Dry – moist, depending on species. Sawtooth prefers to be moist and may require irrigation. Sand likes to be on the dry side. All need to be well watered to establish. Do not over water. Native species are unlikely to require irrigation after establish-ment, if planted in the right place for that species. Water only as needed.
Miscellaneous: Prune only those stems that have already flowered and fruited. Cut back almost to the ground after fruiting. Re-quire little, if any, fertilizer. Sucker extensively. Give them plenty of room. Grow near a fence or trellis where trailing stems/canes can be trained to grow upright if needed or desired. Moderate deer resistance.
Propagation: Easily done from seed or from root or leafy stem cuttings. Also by division or tip layering. The easiest and quickest method is to utilize the suckers that naturally form from roots.
Availability: Native blackberries are not commercially available at present in Florida. Find a source and propagate your own! Many commercial cultivars are available.


References:
Haehle, Robert G. and Joan Brookwell, Native Florida Plants, Houston, Texas, Gulf Publishing Company, 1999.
Huegel, Craig N., Native Plant Landscaping for Florida Wildlife, Gainesville, Florida, University Press of Florida, 2010.
Lantz, Peggy, Florida’s Edible Wild Plants, Gainesville, Florida, Seaside Publishing, 2014.
Minno, Marc C., and Maria Minno, Florida Butterfly Gardening, Gainesville, Florida, University Press of Florida, 1999.
Nelson, Gil, The Shrubs & Woody Vines of Florida, Sarasota, Florida, Pineapple Press, Inc., 1996.
Taylor, Walter Kingsley, Florida Wildflowers, A Comprehensive Guide, Gainesville, Florida, University Press of Florida, 2013.
Wunderlin, Richard P., Guide to the Vascular Plants of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, University Press of Florida, 1998.