By Diana Urbanczyk
You’ve most likely seen Himalayan blackberry lining hiking trails, roads, and maybe even lakes and rivers. During the summer, plenty of people gather the berries that grow in great clusters from walls of blackberry brambles. I’ve made juice, jam, and pies out of the blackberries that grow near me, and they always taste delicious.
At first, I never thought about where all the blackberry bushes came from. They were always there. No matter where I went, I could easily find some brambles to pick berries from. But then, I learned about invasive species.
Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus) is in fact not native to Canada– not even North America as a whole! You’d think that they’d at least be from the Himalayas, but even that’s not true. This blackberry is actually native to Armenia, as you could probably guess from its latin name, and also Northern Iran.
You may be wondering how it crossed the ocean to arrive in North America. Well, we can thank a man by the name of Luther Burbank for that. Burbank grew the plant on his Californian farm where it adapted very well to the local climate. Unfortunately, because none of its natural predators existed in California, the blackberry ran wild. It quite literally crawled up the continent from there.
Because of its growth pattern, Himalayan blackberry spread fast. Really fast. With its aggressive technique, the blackberry could easily grow over existing plants and take over almost any area. It only took about 150 years for the blackberry to become a plant that you could find anywhere.
Why is it a Problem?
Nowadays, Himalayan blackberry is seen as a summer snack or just a thorny inconvenience, but it’s much more than that.
This invasive species is really hard to remove once it takes root. The seeds can survive in soil for years and new plants can easily sprout from separated root bits. That means that even if you chop down all of the brambles and vines above ground, blackberry will still be able to grow back from below. All in all, removing blackberry is an incredibly tedious process.
If you’ve ever seen Himalayan blackberry in person, you may notice how dense the brambles can become. The blackberry forms walls of thorny vines and leaves, overgrowing any existing plants and habitats for wild animals. The big leaves block the sunlight from reaching plants close to the ground, ultimately killing them. It’s why when you see a blackberry bush, it’s usually the only type of plant you can find in the area.
Himalayan blackberry doesn’t work very well with native species and often outcompetes them. Destroying the native species is detrimental to the local environment, as it creates large areas of unusable habitat for many creatures and plants.
A case study of the Lower Mainland of BC found a correlation between Himalayan blackberry and breeding bird diversity. The author found that there was a decrease in these breeding bird species in areas where the blackberry took over.
What to do?
The best thing we could do it try and keep the blackberry contained. Allowing it to spread farther is only going to make the problem worse. Getting rid of all the Himalayan blackberry at once is also not really a feasible solution. If you have the proper tools, you shouldn’t be afraid of cutting down some blackberry vines that end up crawling into your yard.