Blackberries: Dreadful edibles of the Pacific Northwest

The News TribuneSeptember 6, 2012 

It’s blackberry season. Eat up.

This is the one time of the year the Himalayan blackberry makes slight amends for its destructive rampage through the Pacific Northwest. Its tangles of living barbed wire have spread so relentlessly through the region that they look like they own the place.

In fact, they don’t belong here. They were imported to the West Coast more than 100 years ago by famed botanist Luther Burbank, of all people, and have been choking out native vegetation ever since.

Blackberry vines are urban guerrillas. They’ll try to grab any patch of earth left untended – alleys, vacant lots, berms, medians, parks, the back yards of sloppy homeowners.

Outside city limits, they’re worse than Genghis Khan. They’ve spread through pastures, gullies, woodlands, national forests and public corridors. They’ve crept through the foothills and destroyed one wild ecosystem after another. A forest hike through native undergrowth one year can become a hike through blackberry country a few years later.

The viciously thorned vines take no prisoners. They kill smaller plants and prevent young trees from growing. You can beat them back here and there, but as a species, they’ve slipped the leash. They’re so pervasive that a single gargantuan blackberry organism seems to be poking up its shoots throughout the Puget Sound region.

Unlike humans, blackberries have several methods of reproduction. Shoots grow sideways from their tuber-like root crowns, emerging as new plants. When the tips of their thorny canes touch the ground, they throw out roots and create new offspring.

It is possible to kill them, but that usually takes hard labor or money. Landowners can hire goats, which like to eat them. The vines can be burned, poisoned, pulled and cut. The roots go deep, however, and the root crowns have to be hoed out or dug up to really put a stop to them.

Their most seductive habit – exploding with delicious berries this time of year – is also their most aggressive.

It’s their annual blitzkrieg. The vines draw birds, squirrels, bears and various omnivores, which feast on the tasty berries. The seeds pass through digestive tracts with ease and come out the other end – far from the mother plant – encased in natural Vigoro.

The best way to stop this is by eating them yourself. Blackberries happen to be spectacular in pies, tarts, crisps, jams, crumbles, ice cream and toppings. And that’s where they belong.

They’re free. They’re far too easy to find. So bon appétit – you’ll be doing the Earth a favor.

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