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Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture

Dewberry. A blackberry-like fruit of trailing and climbing habit, now considerably grown in North America.

The botanist makes no distinction between dewberries and blackberries. But to the fruit-grower, trailing blackberries are dewberries, distinguished further, and probably better separated, by the flower- and fruit-clusters. In the true dewberries, the center flowers open first and flowers and fruits are few and scattered; in true blackberries—there are hybrids between the two in which the distinguishing characters are confused—the lower and outer flowers open first and flower- and fruit-clusters are comparatively dense. In the method of propagation there is a further distinction. In nature or under cultivation, dewberries are usually propagated from the tips, while blackberries are naturally propagated from suckers and under cultivation from root-cuttings.

The dewberry is an American fruit but very recently domesticated—if, indeed, it can be said to be domesticated, for it is the most uncertain and the most unmanageable of the small fruits. Its history as a garden plant, according to Card (Card's "Bush-Fruits, page 132) at the most does not go back further than 1863, and dewberries were not generally cultivated until well toward the close of the nineteenth century. Undoubtedly, despite unmanageable habits of growth, uncertainty in fruiting, the necessity of cross-pollination between varieties, capriciousness as to soils and lack of hardiness in northerly climates, the several species and the rapidly increasing number of varieties of dewberries, fill a place not occupied by the better- known and longer domesticated blackberries; for, as a rule, they ripen earlier and, when well grown, give larger, handsomer and better, or at least, differently flavored fruits than the blackberry. Moreover, from the several species of dewberries are being derived greatly improved varieties and hybrids between them and species of blackberries, of which there are now several under cultivation, as Wilson Early and Wilson Junior, which are most promising. These qualities make certain the place of the dewberry in home and commercial plantations and presage for it even greater value in the future.

Of the thirty or more species of Rubus which all could agree in calling blackberries and dewberries, the fruit-grower would probably distinguish five as dewberries. Between these there are hybrid forms under cultivation, as probably there are in the wild, and since there are also hybrids between blackberries and dewberries, the group is one of great taxonomic difficulty. The five species of dewberries are: (1) Rubus villosus, Ait., found in dry open places from Maine westward and southward. The species is characterized by woody, stoutly armed stems, membranaceous leaves, villous beneath, flowers few to several in leafy racemes, and short cyclindrical fruits with few to many large drupelets. Var. roribaccus, Bailey, is a well-marked subspecies from West Virginia of more vigor, with larger flowers with elongated pedicels, and larger fruits; much cultivated with the Lucretia as the best representative. (Figs. 1248, 1249). (2) Rubus invisus, Bailey, is similar but stouter, with canes less procumbent, leaves more coarsely toothed, pedicels longer, and with the sepals large and leaf-like. The species grows wild from New York to Kansas and southwest and is the parent of several cultivated dewberries of which Bartel (Fig. 1250, adapted from G.F. 4:19) is the type. (3) Rubus trivialis, Michx., the southern dewberry, is quite distinct from 1 and 2. This species is found near the coast from Virginia to Florida and westward to Texas. It is characterized by slender trailing stems armed with recurved prickles, evergreen, smooth, leathery leaves, corymbs 1-3-flowered, and cyclindrical fruits with many drupelets. Of the few varieties of this species cultivated, Manatee is probably the oldest and best known. (4) Rubus rubrisetus, Rydb., found in sandy soils in Missouri and Louisiana, is similar to R. trivialis but with stems, petioles, and pedicels rough with reddish, purplish hairs; the flowers are smaller but the corymbs are 3-9-flowered. The species is locally cultivated and gives some promise for greater improvement. (5) Rubus vitifolius, Cham. & Schlecht, is the Pacific Coast dewberry characterized by trailing, slender, pubescent canes with weak, straight or recurved prickles, leaves various, flowers staminate or pistillate on different plants, fruit of medium size, round-oblong, sweet. Several varieties, of which possibly Aughinbaugh and Skagit Chief are the best known, are cultivated in the far West. The loganberry is said to be a hybrid between this species and R. Idaeus, and several less well-known hybrids are recorded.

The dewberry should receive under cultivation much the same treatment given the more common blackberry. The culture of the two differs chiefly in the dewberries requiring more care in training and must usually be better protected for the winter. The plants are trained on trellises of two or three wires or tied to stakes, the former method giving better results, but the latter being more common. The object in either case is threefold,—namely, to regulate the amount of bearing wood, to keep the vine out of the way of the cultivator and to keep the fruit off the ground. The plants should be set 4 by 7 feet apart, these distances varying somewhat in accordance with the variety and the soil. Pruning is a simple matter, consisting of shortening back young plants to 4 or 5 feet the first season to keep them from sprawling too much, cutting out old canes at any time after fruiting, and heading-in long shoots and laterals in early summer. From four to six fruiting canes are allowed to the plant. In northern climates, the vines must be laid on the ground and protected in winter with straw or other material. The plants thrive on a somewhat lighter soil than the blackberry—in fact some sorts require such a soil. Varieties should be intermixed to secure cross-pollination and thereby insure a good set of fruits and avoid the formation of nubbins.

Of about thirty named varieties, Lucretia, Bartel, Austin and Premo are the best. Of these four, Lucretia is far most commonly grown, being adapted to the greatest diversity of soils and is in general best suited to varying environments. For history and botany, see Bailey, "Evolution of our Native Fruits;" for culture, see 'Card's "Bush-Fruits," and Cornell Bulletins Nos. 34 and 117. Consult Blackberry, Loganberry and Rubus. U. P. Hedrick.

The above text is from the Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture. It may be out of date, but still contains valuable and interesting information which can be incorporated into the remainder of the article. Click on "Collapse" in the header to hide this text.

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Ripening dewberries at Pamplico, South Carolina
Ripening dewberries at Pamplico, South Carolina
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The Dewberries (Rubus sect. Eubatus) are a group of species closely related to the blackberries. They are small brambles with berries reminiscent of the raspberry, but are usually purple to black instead of red.

Dewberries are common throughout most of the Northern Hemisphere, sometimes thought of as a nuisance weed, but the leaves can be used for a tea, and the berries are sweet and edible. They can be eaten raw, or used to make cobbler or jam.

Dewberry flowers in March, southeast Texas

Around March and April, the plants start to grow white flowers that develop into small green berries. The tiny green berries grow red and then a deep purple-blue as they ripen. When the berries are ripe, they are tender and difficult to pick in any quantity without squashing them. The plants do not have upright canes like some other Rubus species, but have stems that trail along the ground, putting forth new roots along the length of the stem. The stems are covered with fine spines or stickers. Anyone picking these wild berries can expect to have their hands stained purple and to have many scratches from the stickers, but the taste of the sweet berries is worth the trouble.

In the winter the leaves often remain on the stems, but may turn dark red. The leaves are sometimes eaten by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Peach Blossom.

The European dewberry, Rubus caesius, grows more upright like other brambles but is frequently restricted to coastal communities especially sand dune systems. Its fruits are a deep, almost black, purple and are coated with a thin layer or 'dew' of waxy droplets. Thus, they appear sky-blue (caesius is Latin for pale blue). It is less sought after, because its fruits are small and retain a markedly tart taste even when fully ripe.

Dewberry in winter, Johnsonville, South Carolina
European dewberry growing on sand dunes at Newborough, Wales


and many more

Dewberry is also used as the common name for other berries of the genus that become dew-like in texture and are as delicious as dewberries.

See also

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