Sunday, February 1, 2009

Public Enemy

If you are lucky enough to live somewhere untainted by Himalayan blackberry then do your best to keep it that way. This insidious invader would probably consume Farcical Farm in four or five years if left to its own devices.

On Friday afternoon Black Jack's Carol got tangled in a blackberry cane while she was cycling home from work, resulting in a pretty serious accident. With her in mind I trespassed onto our neighbour's property this afternoon and spent a couple of hours hacking away at one thicket that constantly sends tendrils over our fence. Himalayan blackberry is not your garden variety (punny!) weed. A mature stalk measures about 1 inch in diameter and is covered with thick, sharp thorns that can penetrate denim, leather and even cheap rubber. At risk to life and limb I brought this one inside to photograph for you:

Canes grow upwards out of a central stock, then bend to trail along the ground. These snake-like vines can easily reach 10 meters in length and they are practically invisible in tall grass. If you have horses they are akin to having lengths of barbed wire hidden in the pasture -- not nearly as dangerous, but still a hazard. The vines can put down roots anywhere along their length, and the huge root systems are so resource-greedy that they can survive entire seasons with minimal photosynthetic support from the above-ground plants. The only non-chemical ways to kill this hearty foe are (1) thorough and sustained culling of all above-ground stalks, followed by burning of the material, and (2) complete destruction of the root system. Option #1 generally takes three diligent years, keeping in mind that bears, birds and other wildlife are constantly eating and redistributing the seeds.

Of course Himalayan blackberry does produce blackberries -- big sweet ones by the thousands in the fall. It is the plant's only redeeming quality.


Funder said...

Wow, that sounds horrible. Worse than kudzu - at least kudzu doesn't have thorns. Our scrubby little native blackberry canes aren't that vigorous.

Do you know the backstory on it? Was it originally planted as a crop?

dp said...

Rumour has it that renowned botany pioneer Luther Burbank brought it to California from Europe sometime in the late 1800s. He believe it to be Asian in origin (hence the name) but it is actually European. It is pernicious stuff, so I guess it spread itself out along the coast.

Anonymous said...

Ahh! The love and bane of my existence! I have been torn to shreds more often than I'd like to remember stretching and reaching for the juicy rewards of this bush. An invasive, yet delicious berry providing plant!

This past summer, the kids picked the blackberries and I made the pies and muffins. I froze some berries too so I wouldn't have to pay so darn much for blackberries at the store this year.

Small, wild blackberries are my favorite, but I have no idea where to find them here.

The Border Collies said...

Mr Woo eats the berries of it right off the vine!

Brandy said...

I eat a few cups of blackberries a week. I wonder if that scary plant could survive my black thumb?

Those thorns are scary! Will the goats eat them? Will any animal eat them?

I wonder if there is an agricultural lab (probably like Monsanto - eek!) studying this plant? It sounds hardy and thrifty, I wonder what it does to the soil?

Good for you on clearing some out, that's hard work, but vital!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Egads! What a scourge!
Thanks for risking life and limb to show us the vine.

Melanie (The Knutsons) recently wrote about how blackberry vines caused a serious horse riding accident for her Mother and baby sister.
And Lytha of (a Horse crazy American in Germany) is battling blackberry vines trying to take over her new property.

I love blackberry syrup and had thought of growing my own blackberry bushes, but now I'm not so sure. Is it just the Himilayan version that's so out of control?

They remind me of Kudzu, the vine that is out of control in the south. It can literally grow five feet in one day!
But at least it has no thorns. lol!