May 21, 2021
I had to comment as we drove through the mountains yesterday how beautiful the landscape was. It had rained earlier in the day and even now we were passing through an on and off sprinkle. It was still overcast but the day was clear even if not bright. What made the biggest difference though was the weather we have been having. The persistent rain has been accompanied by cool temperatures. The trees had all filled out and the wildflowers and shrubs were in full bloom. That left a fresh clean look in the mountain greenery. Even the wild blackberries were in full bloom.
As we neared the crest of the mountain Melissa mentioned how much of the flowering ground cover was wild blackberry. Wild blackberries are a diverse group of species and hybrids in the genus Rubus. They are members of the Rosaceae family and are closely related to the strawberry. Rubus is one of the most diverse genera of flowering plants in the world, consisting of 12 subgenera, some with hundreds of species. Wild blackberries (Rubus fruticosus) are also referred to as brambles because of the tangled, thorny growth they create. There are 11 species that grow in the wild throughout the US, and four species are considered weeds because of their invasive growth. Blackberries are a source of food to both humans and animals as well as a source of cover for birds and animals.
Cultivated species of blackberry are well-behaved plants that need only a little pruning to keep them manageable, but invasive species are a terrible menace that can be difficult to control. Weedy blackberries spread underground and take root wherever the long, arching vines touch the ground. Animals eat the berries and spread the seeds to distant locations through their digestive tract. One seedling can eventually form a massive thicket. These thickets were what I was seeing along the road. This impenetrable thicket can overrun more desirable native plants and block access by livestock, wildlife, and humans. While invasive blackberries are difficult to eradicate, they are pretty when they flower and provide protection for the small critters and birds who hang out in the thicket.
Thoughts: While these wild blackberries were not accessible to most humans (stopping on the Interstate is discouraged), all the blackberry growing along the roadway must produce a ton of food. Several years ago, I worked with an urban gardener to create my first container garden at work. The idea was to grow vegetables in areas that were accessible to the local population. When the plants ripened, people could just walk along and pick the ripe fruit. I grew grapes along one side of the building in an alley and over 30 containers in our enclosed courtyard. While I thought this was a great idea, I found it a difficult to catch on. Few fellow workers were willing to cultivate a crop grown for others, and Melissa and I ended up doing most of the work. Picking fruit from someone else’s garden it not the common way of harvesting. People needed to be retrained on how to think about ownership of the garden. While we are opening businesses and restaurants, we are being told people will “know to do what is right.” The problem is many never paid attention during closure. People need to be retrained (and pay attention) going forward. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.