Wild black raspberries (black caps/thimbleberry) are just coming into season here. These first ones are not quite ripe, close, but still tart. Perfect for baking and jams! These are a wild raspberry (Rubus occidentalis), even though many confuse them with a wild blackberry (Rubus ursinus.. aka dewberry). While they are related, and the berries look very similar, they are not the same species.
Wickedly prickly, they also seem to hide tons of mosquitoes in their canes. I will be picking in the next few days. This will be no small task as the bigger farm never got it's fields cut. An early morning adventure as it is supposed to get back up to the 90's with humidity also in the 90's. I'll be able to check on the gooseberry as the black raspberries often are found nearby.
Wild black raspberries don't have a very long season. It generally is only for a few weeks.. in northern IL.. basically July. Then these lovely morsels are gone.
These berries provide a lot more than just dessert, they pack some heath benefits in their punch. A good source of vitamin A (helps with night vision), vitamin c, iron, fiber, a smattering of calcium.. and a whole lot of antioxidants (anthocyanins) and ellagic acids. If you thought blueberries packed a whollop, black raspberries pack up to 3 times more. They bring to the table anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. A serving of 2/3rds of a cup is about 75 calories (I like to think they mitigate the calories in the whipped cream or ice cream that I pair them with.. you know.. like how broken cookies lose calories with every fracture. Hence you can smash up a whole dozen cookies and make a zero calorie crunchy topping for that sundae...)
If you found a particularly tasty cane, you can clone it by burying the tip on the cane and letting it root. In the picture above, that's how we moved this patch. Using larger nursery pots, I put them next to the canes and buried the tips.
To be quite honest.. I totally forgot about them until the next year. This patch is tiny and was started from 2 canes about 16 years ago. These berries were my little sister's favorite. When she was very little, it was one of the few foods she would whole heartedly devour. That was one of my jobs as a little kid.. and to get me and my next younger sister to pick enough of them, my Mom paid us $1 a pint. Back then.. and at the age of 7.. that was big bucks! Anyways.. we put these in closer to that house so my Mom could grab some easily for my sister. They are kept somewhat in check by mowing as they are right next to the field.
These can also be propagated by seed. The seeds do need cold stratification to germinate. These are sort of an understory plant. By that I mean they can survive ok in the dappled light, but do best on the edge of a forest setting. They need and like enough sunlight to produce fruit, but do well with a little protection from trees. They do fine in clay soils, but need drainage. If planting in an open sunny area, make sure to water when it is setting fruit should the rain be scarce.
While a lot of critters like the fruit (birds, raccoons, etc.).. deer, rabbits and goats like the leaves. The canes start setting fruit on the 2nd year. You can try to somewhat train/ restrain them along a fence. That would make picking the easier as they tend to make a clump if allowed to do what they will. We just let them go wild.. then whine and complain when it is time to harvest.. the whole time vowing to end the shenannigans and get them under control. Almost 3 decades of the same routine and we have yet to make the canes play nice! lol
So if you happen across some black caps, give them a taste. If you run across one that has nice plump, easily picked berries that taste amazing.. please consider propagating them! Most of the cultivars out there are from discoveries made out in the woods!
(Although very hardy.. keep spacing away from raspberries. These wild counterparts often bully their way past pests and diseases.. something that the very selectively cultivated red raspberry might not be able to withstand. They can cross pollinate, but these plants do most of their reproduction by rooting at the tips of the canes. They initially grow up.. then flop over.. almost like watching nature's Slinky travel across an area. Several of the "purple" raspberry cultivars.. are crosses of red raspberry to black raspberry.)