(05/07/20) BATON ROUGE, La. — Now is a great time to pick blackberries and dewberries, but how can you tell the difference between the two?
“Those berries you see ripening along the roadsides and in ditches are really blackberries,” said LSU AgCenter horticulturist Kiki Fontenot. “The colloquial term for them is dewberries, but they’re just a different species of blackberry than the cultivated ones we grow.”
Dewberries have smaller fruit and grow with trailing stems along the ground, whereas cultivated blackberries have larger fruit and a more upright growth pattern. Some are thornless and have a better flavor to their fruit.
Now, if someone asks, “Is it a blackberry or a dewberry?” you’ll know some of the differences. But if you’re still not sure, just answer “blackberries,” and you’ll be correct 100% of the time.
To make things clearer, though, here’s another noticeable distinction. Dewberries, or wild blackberries, will be finishing up their fruit production in early May, while cultivated blackberries continue ripening later into the summer and even into fall.
“The great thing about having different blackberry varieties in your backyard is it extends your season so you can pick fruit at different times of the year,” Fontenot said.
“We have new varieties that give us fruit in the fall, too, under the right cultural practices,” said AgCenter horticulturist David Picha. “Now, besides blackberries in the spring, we can have fresh, high-quality fruit in September, October and even November.”
While we import blackberries from places like California and Mexico, Louisiana has great potential to produce more domestic blackberries, Picha said.
“Blackberries are important for home gardeners. And berry crops in general are one of our most important commercial fruit crops in Louisiana,” he said. “They’re a very high-value fruit crop that has been increasing in per capita consumption.”
Information on best cultivation practices is available online in the AgCenter “Blackberry Growing Guide” at https://bit.ly/lablackberries.
To maintain freshness and quality, it’s important for homeowners and commercial growers to pick berries at the right time and in the proper way to prevent them from spoiling.
“We should harvest blackberries when the fruit is entirely black and there is no purple coloration on the drupelets,” Picha said, referring to the many smaller segments that join together to create the larger fruit.
The berries will not ripen after harvest. If they’re picked too early, they won’t improve in quality and will usually be sour and acidic.
“Pick them gently, not squeezing, because you could damage the drupelets and cause post-harvest deterioration,” Picha said.
“When you go to pick a dewberry and touch the fruit, usually you’re going to have red stains on your hands, while that won’t easily happen with cultivated blackberries like Brazos, Cheyenne or Apache,” Fontenot added.
Blackberries should immediately be cooled at 32 to 34 degrees (refrigerator temperature) to get about 10 days of good market quality, Picha said.
“They are very perishable. The average rule of thumb is for every hour delay in the beginning of the cooling process, we lose one day of market life,” he said. “So if we want to maximize the edible quality and maintain the nutritional value, we should harvest the fruits very gently and get them into cool storage as soon as possible.”
“Blackberries, wild or cultivated, are very nutritious,” said Sandra May, an AgCenter registered dietitian. “One cup of blackberries provides half the daily recommendation for vitamin C, and it provides about one-third of the daily recommended amount of fiber.”
Blackberries are also packed with antioxidants that help protect our cells from damage and prevent diseases, May said.
“They can be eaten fresh or frozen and used as a topping for foods like cereal, oatmeal and yogurt,” she said.
Blackberries should be picked only when they are fully ripened. The blackberry in the center is not ripened enough, as indicated by its purple drupelets. The berry to the right of it is fully blackened and ready to pick. Blackberries will taste sour and acidic if you pick them too early. Photo by Randy LaBauve/LSU AgCenter
Cultivated blackberries tend to have erect stems, as seen on this Brazos variety. Dewberries, or wild blackberries, tend to be low, trailing vines. Photo by Randy LaBauve/LSU AgCenter
Dewberries grow in fields, along roadsides and in ditches and tend to have trailing vines. Their berries are smaller than the berries produced by cultivated blackberry bushes. Photo by Randy LaBauve/LSU AgCenter