A Quick and Juicy Guide to Foraging Native and Invasive Berries

A Quick and Juicy Guide to Foraging Native and Invasive Berries
A Quick and Juicy Guide to Foraging Native and Invasive Berries
Foraging for wild berries is not just a treasure hunt with the tastiest of rewards, but it can be a way to connect with your local environment. Indeed, seasoned foragers emphasize the importance of learning about local ecology before venturing out, bucket in hand. That’s why we’re here to teach you about which of our beloved berries are native and which are invasive.

Invasive Berries

Invasives edible berries—scary as they may sound—are nothing to fear. In fact, foraging edible invasive berries is a small-scale control method that can help reduce seed spread. Below are some berry delicious invasive plants that are established in the Sea to Sky region.

Identification:

  • Edible berries, which ripen mid-summer to fall, are black, shiny, and hairless.
  • Berries taste sweet, with a bit of an acidic tang.
  • Angled stems are thick with sharp, curved, stiff prickles that can be green or red.
  • Egg-shaped leaflets have toothed edges and are grouped in clusters of 3 – 5.

To learn more about Himalayan Blackberry, click here.

Impact:

  • Outcompetes native vegetation and reduces flora diversity.
  • Infests stream channels and banks, which restricts wildlife & human access to water and increases erosion.
Learn to Identify Himalayan Blackberry:

Identification:

  • Edible berries, which ripen in mid-late summer, are black and shiny.
  • Berries taste sweet, with a bit of an acidic tang
  • Angled stems with curved prickles that have a red base and yellow tip.
  • Distinct leaves that are deeply divided, lobed, and toothed.

To learn more about Cutleaf Evergreen Blackberry, click here.

Impact:

  • Outcompetes native vegetation and prevents establishment of native trees.
  • Infests stream channels and banks, which restricts wildlife & human access to water and increases erosion.
Learn to Identify Cutleaf Evergreen Blackberry:

Serving a blackberry pie for dessert could at least be a great way to engage and educate your dinner guests.

The Harm of Invasive Berries

Highlighting invasive species as tasty and delicious is a double-edged sword. It is important not to minimize the detrimental effect that these species can have on our ecosystem. As noted above, these invasive species have negative ecological and economic impacts.

Eating invasive plant species into submission one meal at a time is an unrealistic goal. It will take a much more aggressive hands-on approach to really put a dent in these invasive populations. In the meantime, serving a blackberry pie for dessert could at least be a great way to engage and educate your dinner guests.

Native Berries

The Sea to Sky region is plentiful with native edible berries. Below are some common fruit-bearing plants that will make the forager in you happy.

Identification:

  • Edible berries, which ripen early August up until early October, are black, shiny, and smaller than Himalayan Blackberries, in an elongated shape.
  • Berries taste extra sweet (like jam on a vine!)
  • Greyish vines trail along the ground with tiny, hooked prickles.
  • Alternate, sharply toothed leafs are composed of 3 leaflets.

To learn more about Trailing Blackberry, click here.

Benefits:

  • Provides excellent wildlife habitat.
  • Many species of birds, small mammals and bears eat the berries.

Identification:

  • Edible berries, which ripen in July, are purplish-black, round (~½ inch in diameter), and do not easily pull free from the branch.
  • Unsurprisingly, berries taste sweet
  • Stems are waxy and have very sharp prickles that are straight to slightly curved.
  • Egg-shaped leaves are alternate and compound with typically 3 (or occasionally 5) leaflets.

To learn more about Black Raspberry, click here.

Benefits:

  • Impenetrable thickets provide secure cover for small animals.
  • Many species of birds, small mammals and bears eat the berries, while deer and rabbits feed on stems and leaves.

Identification:

  • The edible berries, which ripen May and June, look like salmon-coloured raspberries. 
  • Berries taste mildly sweet and somewhat tart
  • Stems grow 4 m tall and are less prickly than most other Rubus species.
  • Dark green leaves alternate along the stem and are composed of three sharply-toothed leaflets.  

To learn more about Salmonberry, click here.

Benefits:

  • Dense thickets provide secure cover for small animals.
  • Aids in bank stabilization.
  • Source of food for birds, small mammals, deer and bears and other large mammals.
  • One of the earliest sources of nectar for pollinators.
Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus)

Thimbleberry

Identification:

  • Red dome-shaped berries, which ripen in late June through August
  • Berries are similar to raspberries and are very soft when ripe.
  • Thornless, woody stems grow 2-3 ft tall.
  • Fuzzy leaves are broad and somewhat maple leaf-shaped with 3 to 7 pointed lobes.

To learn more about Thimbleberry, click here.

Benefits:

  • Thickets provide secure cover for small animals.
  • Plays an important role in nutrient cycling. 
  • Aids in soil stabilization.
  • Useful for revegetation of exposed sediments and to reduce increased growth of invasive species.
  • Source of food for birds, small mammals, deer and bears and other large mammals.

When that native plant disappears, the wildlife it supports may disappear as well.

The Benefits of Native Berries

Native plants are important for supporting the needs of local wildlife populations. While all plants can provide shelter, and fruit-bearing plants can provide some food, native plants offer the greatest benefits because they allow for a greater variety of vegetation to co-exist. This ultimately increases biodiversity and habitat heterogeneity. In particular, native plants support a wide variety of insects that provide an essential source of protein for many other animals. 

Additionally, there are species of wildlife that are completely dependent on specific native plants to survive. Local wildlife may have a special ecological relationship with the native vegetation. When that native plant disappears, the wildlife it supports may disappear as well. 

A Word of Caution

  • The most important rule to follow when foraging any wild plant species for consumption is to be absolutely positive of the identification of the plant. 

It should go without saying that this is a very basic identification guide, and further research might be required. Some species of plants have look-a-likes that can be tricky to tell apart.

  • Another important rule is to be familiar with the environment from which you are foraging.
    • Be sure that the area has not been sprayed with chemicals.
    • Do not eat plants from areas that frequently flood: floodwaters can bring harmful chemicals and bacteria that can be soaked up through the plant.
    • Forage plants from the waist up.
    • Do not forage plants on private property or protected land and avoid areas right next to busy roads. 
  • We can eat our share, but it’s important to remember that local wildlife are dependent on these food sources.
    • Never pick a native plant bare of fruit.
    • Avoid returning to the same source at frequent intervals. 

What are your favourite berries to forage? Are you an immediate snacker, or do you pick for later consumption?

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