Stop and Smell the Blackberries (Then, Kill Them): A Mountain Biker’s Guide to Nature

Left marching their natural rhythm, some plants would take over any open space and devour the sunlight and water from neighboring flora. These nearly unkillable species are able to survive outside their natural environment and often wipe out other more delicate native plants. Their bullying behavior often lands themselves on the invasive species list, which the USDA defines as “plants, animals, or pathogens that are non-native […] to the ecosystem under consideration, and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause harm.”

For many trail users around the globe, Himalayan blackberry vines pose a familiar and occasionally painful nuisance. Also known by their scientific name of, Rubus armeniacus, the perennial plants are natives of the culture-rich mountains of Armenia. According to the Invasive Species Compendium, the plant was “introduced outside of its native range as a cultivated crop for the production of sweet fruits. It soon escaped cultivation and has since naturalized in many temperate areas around the world.” The hearty vines now provide cactus-like obstacles alongside trails, thriving in any open space their seeds or vegetation land.

Blackberry plants can tolerate most climates between 31- and 47-degrees latitude, at altitudes below 1800 meters, including ecosystems with mean-maximum temps of 37° celsius, and mean-minimum temps of -4° C. They truly are the cockroach of vegetation.

Identification

Most leaflets have five toothed leaves in a palmate orientation, though some can have just three, and occasionally leaves will grow solo on the vine.

Identifying blackberry plants is reasonably straightforward. At a prior job, I worked with a youth trail crew in Oregon, and roughly two-thirds of our time was spent performing trailside blackberry removal. I had bad dreams of running from tangled red and green spiny monsters for a while.

Some of the obvious call tags of these invasive vines are their long hexagonal stalks, and the way they spread in massive thickets in the bright sun. The plants thrive in disturbed soil where other species might struggle to establish root systems. They can grow more than 20 feet long, laying across vast fields in direct sunlight. Once blackberry vines intertwine and climb nearby trees they can be quite tricky to remove. In some areas, large crews are hired to march through the forests using long-bar chainsaws to mow down the plants like grass, followed by native plant seeding.

Photo: Wikipedia

The plants’ flowers range from white to pink, and their bright blooms come seemingly overnight. It is best to cut the vines before they bloom if you are trying to clear them from alongside your local trails. While blackberries can spread via seeds and vegetation alike, stopping the seed before it develops will help your efforts.

The plant’s central stock forms a hexagonal crosssection, with a wood-like character that grows harder and more brittle toward the end of the season.

The red sunburned side of the vine gives the plant away.

The stocks start out light green in color, turning red toward the end of summer and early autumn. The vine’s coloration and angular shape help to differentiate it from Trailing Blackberry (Rubus ursinus), which is not an invasive plant. Trailing blackberry has a round vine with a blueish hue, far smaller thorns, and grows in small collections in the shade.

“The fruit are less than 2 cm aggregates of black, shiny, roundish drupelets. Each drupe contains a single, hard, flattened seed.” –CABI.ORG Photo: Wikipedia

Eradication

Check out this video on how to remove blackberries. Once the rootballs are properly unearthed, find the native plant species that thrive in the location where you are working and plant them vigorously. It often takes 2-3 passes through a field of blackberries to fully eradicate them, so make sure to return with a pair of clippers the following spring.

Mastication

Blackberries cover a good portion of the earth at this point, and we will likely never cut them back to their natural population. Given that we have no choice but to suffer their scrapes, we might as well make some delicious food with their fruit. Check out this Berry Sorbet recipe from Oh She Glows next time you need a post-ride snack.

60 Second Homemade Berry Sorbet

Thick, delicious, and healthy homemade sorbet in just 1 minute flat
-Yields 1/2 to 3/4 cup
-Prep time is 1 minute
-Cook time is 0 minutes

Ingredients:
-3/4 cup frozen mixed berries (I used dark sweet cherries, blackberries, and blueberries)
-Just enough almond milk to make it come together (I used 6 tbsp)
-1/2 scoop chocolate performance protein powder (optional)
-A few frozen banana chunks, for sweetness

Directions:
In a blender (or a food processor may work too), process all ingredients until thick and creamy. Add the almond milk a little bit at a time, as needed. Serve immediately.

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