Blackberries – A delicious curse

By Janet Carroll, Mukilteo Wildlife Habitat Project | Nov 24, 2010

Photo courtesy of Janet Carroll

The invasive Himalayan blackberries, shown above, are not on the Washington state Noxious Weed List because it would be too difficult to rid the state of them.


Himalayan and evergreen blackberries are two well-known invasive plants that are seen in dense thickets along the Mukilteo Speedway and elsewhere in the community.   The thorny shrubs are difficult and painful to remove, but it is possible.

Both blackberry species were brought from Europe in the late1800s by Burpee Seed Co. for cultivation. The Himalayan species is more widespread than the evergreen, but both are problems because they out-compete other plants.

Blackberries will trespass almost anywhere. They dominate the landscape along roads, in backyards, and along forests and streams.

They grow quickly and form a massive, briar patch that only Brer Rabbit could penetrate.

Where you won’t find these invasive plants is on the state Noxious Weed List. They have colonized so much of our state, that the task of complete blackberry removal would be monumental.  

The plants spread in many ways.  Small canes spout from a large cane, and the cane tips root when they touch the ground. Sprouts grow from roots and from runners in the ground as much as 36 inches deep and 20 feet long.  

They are also spread by birds and other animals that eat the fruit and then drop the seeds, pre-fertilized.

I had a hillside of Himalayan blackberries in my yard and now there are none.  My soil is sandy, and mountain beavers had dug tunnels loosening the soil, making my blackberry eradication much easier than if they were growing in other soils.

If you decide you will remove these brambles, be sure you can tell the Himalayan (Rubus discolor) and evergreen (R. laciniatus) blackberries from other native berry-bearing shrubs.  

If you aren’t familiar with creeping blackberries (R. ursinus), salmonberries (R. spectabilis), or black cap raspberries (R. leucodermis), look them up in a plant identification book or on the Web.

Once you decide to start removing the plants, cover your body with thick, heavy clothing and gloves.  

Get out hand clippers, loppers, a shovel and – if you have one – a fork mattock. If you don’t want to have purple stains on your clothes, do your project before the plant fruits.

This is the method I used for removing the blackberries:

Clip off all the canes in the patch about a foot from the ground. The smaller the pieces are cut, the easier they are to handle.  Move the debris out of your way.

Dig up the remaining stems and roots.  I use the fork mattock because I can grab the roots with the fork and use leverage to push the root out of the ground, removing the runners. Use great determination on this task, for each runner left in the ground will sprout more plants.

Put the plant material in your yard waste container.  Don’t leave the debris on the ground where the plant can re-root and start growing.  If you need to leave a pile for a time, put it on a tarp.

Then, stand back and admire what you have accomplished, ignoring the pain from bloody scratches and the holes in your clothes from the thorns.

It is critical to re-visit your patch to dig up any sprouts that you see growing. You can keep the patch area free of blackberries if you are vigilant.  

To reward yourself, go berry picking elsewhere.

Janet Carroll is a member of the Mukilteo Wildlife Habitat Project, which has a goal of certifying Mukilteo as a community wildlife habitat.  Help Mukilteo get community certification by certifying your own yard.  For more information on the project, go to www.mukilteowildlife.org.

Do you have questions about how to get rid of noxious weeds?  E-mail Carroll at mukilteowildlife@gmail.com.
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