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Blackberry Rehab

The other morning I caught the tail end of a story on CBC Radio. I thought I heard the interviewer say, “blackberry rehab” and perked up as I was planning to go blackberry picking soon and thought I might pick up a few tips. But turns out they were talking about black bear rehabilitation; orphaned and injured bears that are cared for by a rescue service and then returned to the wild. Never mind, it gave me a great title for this post.

So off I went blackberry picking. It is always an ordeal and I usually need rehab after the outing. I never seem to have the right clothing on for the job and wind up stained black and scratched from head to toe. Last year I got so tangled up in the thorny vines, I actually had to take my shirt off to get freed. Fortunately, I was not far from Wreck Beach (where the nudists gather), so I didn’t attract much attention.

This year I hit the motherlode. I found a virgin patch of berries along my usual bike ride loop to UBC and back. I will not disclose exactly where. People tend to get rather proprietary over their blackberry patches, returning year after year to gather the sweet, juicy black gems. Some pickers have nearly come to blows with well-meaning environmentalists who were trying to rip out the invasive plant. Turns out most of the blackberries growing along roadsides, beaches, railways, forest and park edges in the Pacific Northwest are the Himalayan variety (rubus discolor), considered rather colonial as they are taking over the native trailing species (Rubus ursinus). Hey isn’t ursus latin for bear? And don’t bears eat blackberries? Maybe there’s more of a root connection here than I thought.

Anyhoo, The Invasive Plant Council of BC lists all the reasons why we should rip the suckers out (they take over streams, destabilizing the banks; they prohibit movement of large animals, yadda yadda), but my feeling is, it’s food and wildlife habitat and, well food. And if disaster strikes (pick one: the big earthquake we’ve been promised finally hits; we run out of oil; a tsunami wipes out all the bridges), are we really going to be arguing over whether the blackberries are native or not? When I express this view to my friend David Tracey, landscape architect, tree expert and purist, he says forcefully, “If it means an orchard gets taken over and prevents you from growing a lot more food, then of course we should rip them out.”

“Over my cold, dead, stained and scratched body,” I replied. Fortunately we didn’t come to blows.

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