Trailing blackberry – Rubus ursinus

Trailing blackberry leaf and white flower

At a Glance

  • Family: Rosaceae
  • Plant type: shrub, grows in low thickets
  • Distribution: Pacific Coast, from southern California up through British Columbia and east to northern Idaho and Montana, most common from the coast to middle elevations in the Puget Sound area
  • Habitat: tolerant of many growing conditions (e.g., forest understories and openings), grows well after disturbances (especially fire) and open forests
  • Height: 1-3’ tall, trailing stems can grow up to 15’ in length
  • Leaves: deciduous dark green to red leaves, comprised of 3 leaflets (very rarely 5, but possible).
  • Reproduction: berries and rhizomes, clusters of red-purple berries (2.5cm) that are shiny when ripe, only female plants produce berries
  • Flowers: clusters of white flowers (4cm wide)
  • Flowering season: May-August
  • Generation: perennial
  • Notable features: blackberry stems are biennial, first year stems (primocanes) develop from buds at ground level and only produce leaves, lateral branches (floricanes) start in the axils of primocanes in the second year and grow leaves and flowers

Restoration and Conservation

  • Berries are eaten by many animals, including bears
  • The plant also attracts a wide range of butterflies
  • The broad tolerance of environmental conditions allow its planting early in open, disturbed locations and it will persist into later stages of ecological development (i.e., a shaded forest understory)
  • Trailing blackberry is the only native blackberry plant in Washington, but it is often confused with young individuals of the invasive Himalayan blackberry (Rubus bifrons).

Ethnobotany/Commercial Use

  • Coast Salish peoples used dried leaves to make tea, and collected trailing blackberry leaves in the fall when they turned red
  • Leaves were also used to make bitter medicines sweeter
  • Leaves and roots were used to treat diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, fevers, and mouth sores
  • Berries were also eaten as food or dried and stored through the winter

Resources

For questions regarding the EERC Native Plant Guided Tour, contact Sarah at severlin@uw.edu.