Berries Are the Best
by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator
I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!
If April showers bring May flowers then June sun brings berry fun! Summer has many features to love especially after a long cool spring but paramount among the list is picking berries. In preparation for searching the sunny spots of Wintergreen for berries, we should know properly what we are eating and where are good spots to find them.
Let us begin this dive into the most succulent edibles our landscape can offer by analyzing the difference between Allegheny blackberry and black raspberry. These two native berries fill much of our sunny roadsides, power lines and any other opening in the forest canopy. They look and taste very similar but have a couple key differences. The main difference is in the stem of the plants. Black raspberry stems are a bluish white while blackberry stems are a green similar to their leaves. Another identification tool is the underside of their leaves. The underside of black raspberry is much lighter than the top and appears almost white. The underside of blackberry is lighter than the top but still green. The ID tool I like best can only be used when you pull the berry off and eat it (or put it in a bucket if you prefer). When the blackberry fruit is pulled off the plant it leaves a flat receptacle on the plant and the fruit will be flat where it was connected. When the black raspberry fruit is pulled off the plant it leaves a cone receptacle on the plant and will have a deep indentation at its connection point. Both fruit are wonderful for jams, pies or just eating.
The most common berry to be found at Wintergreen is the wineberry. This invasive member of the Rubus family (raspberry genus) is originally from Japan, China and Korea. This spiny, multi-stemmed shrub is best identified by the red glandular hairs covering the stem. The red berries are delicious, sweet and have less seeds than our native species. This species is an ecological threat due to making thick shady thickets that displace native species. I highly encourage you to attempt to control the spread of this invasive by eating all the berries before our wildlife get to them and aid their spread.
Your search for these three Rubus species should center on edge habitat. They need a profuse amount of sunlight and are rarely found in shaded environments. Roadsides and power lines make the best locations to find berries. Allen Creek Nature Preserve, Lower Shamokin Falls and Pedlars Edge all have power lines along the trail and are good locations to find berries. Roadsides are usually laden with berries in July so keep a good eye out for locations where picking is permissible.
Blueberries are the last major berry species that needs covering to make our summer “menu” complete. The vast majority of the blueberries in our landscape are the lowbush blueberry.This plant shares the understory in portions of our mountain that have more infertile, acidic soils. Blueberries are truly a super food. They contain one of the highest levels of antioxidants of any fruit. Their robust flavor makes them my favorite summer treat. The best spots to find blueberries are Cedar Cliffs Main and Pedlars Edge trail.
You now have the resources to pick berries in the most knowledgeable manner possible. Go forth, find the fruit and remember…berries are the best.