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Black Raspberries or Blackberries? The Kitchen Gardener Explains

Apparently, if you live in a warm climate, you may not find these berries growing in your neighborhood–or you might have trouble getting them to produce.

Though my small kitchen garden has had a very slow start this year, the woods and meadows around it have grown apace. So, black raspberry season has ended, and blackberry season is just getting started.

I’ve talked much with my friends about my wild black raspberry harvest: I’ve picked at least 32 quarts of berries—eight gallons—and these I’ve cooked into jelly and syrup which I’ve canned to give as gifts and to use in all kinds of cooking projects: ice cream, ice cream topping, marinade, salad dressing, drink flavor (as in sangria), and pancake and waffle topping.

Apparent Confusion among Kitchen Gardeners

Sharing with friends about black raspberries has raised some questions. Most surprisingly is that southern acquaintances report black raspberries don’t grow well or aren’t common in their areas. But the USDA reports that black raspberries range into southern Georgia.  So, while black raspberries are weeds in Pennsylvania, they might not be so robust in the south.

The second question about black raspberries is why so many people refer to them as blackberries. Apparently, blackberries grow very well in southern states. So, maybe some southerners assume that a reference to black raspberries is a reference to the familiar blackberry. But an equal number of northerners seem to confuse black raspberries and blackberries. Below, I’ve written a short primer on these two, similar berries.

On the left, black raspberries or black caps. On the right, blackberries.

Black Raspberries Versus Blackberries

Black raspberries also go by the name black caps. The name suggests the berry’s shape: it’s like one of those scull-hugging stocking caps—like a bowl made out of little round balls that sits like a cap on a hard core. When you pick a black raspberry, it easily pulls away from the core.

A blackberry looks a lot like a black raspberry, though the balls that comprise it are usually bigger than the ones that make up a black raspberry. More importantly, when you pick a blackberry, the hard core comes with it; a blackberry has a central core of stem-like material.

The black raspberry on the left is hollow; it looks like a tiny cap you could put on a tiny person. The blackberry on the right contains a solid core. While both types of berries taste great, I prefer black raspberries. Unfortunately, black raspberry seeds crunch and stick between my teeth. The core of a blackberry makes it even less pleasant. Crunchiness is why I juice the berries and use the juice to make jam and syrup.

While black raspberry and blackberry plants are very similar, black raspberries ripen in very early summer and usually finish when blackberries come on. I track a season’s progress by the berries: Strawberries set things off and fade as black raspberries take over. Black raspberries fade into blackberries which, in turn, give way to elderberries. Mulberries ignore the progression. They ripen in strawberry season and might hang around well into black raspberry season. (In case you don’t know mulberries, they grow in trees and they resemble blackberries far more than they resemble black raspberries.)

PHEW!

Really: the differences between black raspberries and blackberries are obvious when you see the plants and berries. Please have a look at the photos and schedule your trip to visit me near the end of June; we’ll pick some black raspberries and make jelly.

Stems of black raspberry and blackberry plants are similar: they both have nasty thorns. However, black raspberry stems (left) are round and smooth and often have a tinge of purple. Blackberry stems may have grooves and are usually a shade of green.

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4 Responses to “Black Raspberries or Blackberries? The Kitchen Gardener Explains”

  • I’m not a fan of blackberries. I’ve had black raspberries so rarely that I don’t know if I like them or not. Now red raspberries…I can never get enough.

  • I live in N. CA. I don’t think we have black raspberries. We have an abundance of blackberries thanks to Luther Burbank who introduced them after purchasing seeds from a catalogue and telling everyone how wonderful they are. (They are now invasive.) I have one on my property which I allow to grow in spring, harvest and then cut WAY back, to control. Here’s a tip: harvesting them sans core is an ART. It usually involves waiting until the berries are really ripe and it also entails only harvesting a few each day, to ensure that ripeness. I rarely get “cores” when I pull off a blackberry. I guess you have to delicately pull them off, too. So, work, but it can be done! :)

  • Lara:

    This is a great post! You’ve helped me identify the berries in my yard which at first glance I thought were black raspberries. When I lived in N. California we used to pick blackberries by the bucket-full. It’s true, they were invasive, but such a yummy treat!

  • [...] Can you tell the difference between a blackberry and a black raspberry? They’re two distinct p… [...]

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