The Attack of the Himalayan Blackberry



I’ve almost staunched the bleeding. The crimson crosshatches etched across my forearms don’t sting much, but they look impressive.  I was just practicing some close quarter combat with that tasty rascal of the Pacific Northwest, perhaps our yummiest weed, nature’s barbed wire, your friend and mine: the Himalayan Blackberry! (clap, clap, clap, clap).  This blackberry is the strong silent type: barely whispering during wind storms, the brambles can silently eat a shed. They build a mostly-evergreen thicket of arching canes which luxuriate over previous years’ growth.  Or anything else that couldn’t get out of the way fast enough.

In late spring the white flowers buzz with fuzzy bees. Then, in late summer the clusters of chubby, jet-black berries draw crowds of brave harvesters easily distinguished by their yellow plastic ice-cream pails. Kids pick and eat a few berries, and then huck most of the rest at their friends. One point if the berry sticks, more points for mushing one in somebody’s ear. At least that’s how I remember the sport.

Blackberry canes don’t mean to be so vicious. Their thorns are not for attack, or even defense really. And, correctly, the ‘thorns’ are prickles; arising like saw teeth along their green skin. Thorns only arise on species which have such modified branches. Every rose does not have a thorn, just prickles. Fall into a Pyracantha some night late: Those sucking chest wounds are caused by the finger-long thorns. That’s if you can unimpale yourself.  Blackberries’ relatively innocent prickles are for climbing, like pitons. Try to pull a cane out of a tree or shrub in which a blackberry is lounging and you’ll see how well they work. Oh, and spines are modified leaves, like on cacti… but enough prickling at this thorny issue.

Mostly recovered from round one, where I was only swinging a sickle, I’m off to try the gas hedge trimmer. If it works, it’ll be like the Jaws of Life, saving fences, cars, and shuffling neighborhood octogenarians from the shimmering green tentacles iconized in darker Japanese anime cartoons. Come to think of it, I think they ate my hibachi. I haven’t seen it anywhere.


  1. As a Pacific Northwest ex-pat, I can say with no shame that while I do not miss the bloody wrestling matches with the canes, I do miss the blackberries so very, very much. Blackberry jam, blackberry cobbler, blackberry wine… (sigh.) My attempts at growing a decent blackberry crop here in Colorado have been met with nothing but disappointment.

  2. Wow, glad to hear you survived the ordeal. I’ve spent a lot of time up in the Pacific NW and am always amazed at the insatiable growth of blackberries. I think I’d be more than a little afraid to have one on my property.

    • ….have “one” on your property? How quaint!

      I’m convinced the blackberry Mother Plant dwells under the state of Oregon (perhaps spawned by aliens millions of years ago, in an attempt to take over the planet? Perhaps they are the aliens?). When you eradicate one clump, 2 more spring up, just far enough away that you don’t notice till it’s too late.

      Like cockroaches, blackberries will be here long after we’re gone!

  3. I loved reading about your exploits–rather Indiana Jonesian. Having visited Oregon several times, I know how large things can get, and I’d imagine that includes things you’d rather not grow so much. Thanks for the blackberry blog!

  4. Fast rewind to 1980. “Still Life With Woodpecker.” Chapter 47:

    To quote from Tom Robbins, Still Life of a Woodpecker”

    “Blackberries. Nothing, not mushrooms, not ferns, not moss, not melancholy, nothing grew more vigorously, more intractably in the Puget Sound rains than blackberries. Homeowners dug and chopped, and still they came. Park attendants with flame throwers held them off at the gates. In the wet months, blackberries spread so wildly, so rapidly that dogs and small children were sometimes engulfed and never heard from again. In the peak of the season, even adults dared not go berry picking without a military escort. Blackberry vines pushed up through solid concrete, forced their way into polite society, entwined the legs of virgins, and tried to loop themselves over passing clouds.”

  5. I live in Poulsbo, Washington and while there are many things about our climate and area that are enviable, the blackberries are not one of them……or the scotch broom. I’m not sure which I hate more.

    My teenaged son cleared a very large patch of blackberries for a burn pile, sustaining injuries for his trouble. Just a couple of weeks ago we had a huge bonfire–big enough and hot enough that gray embers were still simmering the next day. The fire had rendered that area a wasteland. Well, only 2 weeks later, guess what I found bravely and resolutely poking out of the charred ground yesterday? Yep, the you-can’t-kill-me blackberries.

    I feel your pain. But wow, you should see our hydrangeas.

  6. There is the saying around here that if everyone in Oregon left, they would not be able to get back in after a year because the blackberries would take over.

  7. Never been, never seen the Northwest blackberry invasion… I’m afraid to chance it! Loved the article, though!

  8. It took five years of weekly mowing during the growing season after the blackberries had been grubbed out to kill them. They have enormous burled roots that long to starve.

  9. Oh Deidre, I am so sorry but they just lie down there waiting. I thought I killed all the Himalayans in my yard 10-12 years ago and the birds keep pooping the seeds back into the yard. Plus those deep down roots that I thought were gone are always giving rise to another damn cane. Keep the faith! It gives one something to do when you think your yard is starting to look nice, and whamo! What is that? Oh yeah. Again.

  10. Goats love to eat blackberry leaves! In Washington State, you can rent a herd of goats from Healing Hooves (eastern WA) or Akyla Farm (NW WA.) You can read about goats and other methods of (attempting to) tame this wildly invasive vine in my ‘Ask the Master Gardener’ column on the subject:

  11. I thought this blackberry would be just fine. Sadly, birds and other animal eating the fruits just spread the seeds over. Now, it quickly got out of control and become widespread.

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