Everyone loves wineberries, right? Well, maybe not. Sure, the berries taste great and are free for the picking this time of year in so many places—actually in too many places. Wildlife managers, naturalists and those in the know may love to eat the fruits, but they hate to see the proliferation of wineberry plants. That’s because it’s one more invasive plant species outcompeting and displacing the plants Nature intended to be in our forests and fields to feed wildlife. Birds, bears and other creatures devour the glistening red wineberries and then poop the undigested seeds all over the landscape to further their proliferation, escalating habitat destruction.
Wineberry plants can form impenetrable thickets of thorny canes in woods, hedgerows and in open areas, because they tolerate a wide range of soil and light conditions. They are a particular problem in tree-fall areas in forests, where their long canes arch over and grow roots at their tips. This allows them to rapidly “walk across” the landscape. These thickets snarl up and stab hikers and hunters and even wild animals.
Wineberry is a relative of blackberries and raspberries. (All are in the genus Rubus.) They are native to Asia and arrived in North America in the 1890s to be used as rootstalk for raspberry breeding. The bramble escaped cultivation and now infests every state east of the Mississippi.
You can distinguish wineberry from native blackberries by the stems: both have sharp thorns, but wineberry stems look reddish because they are covered with needle-like red hairs. Their three-parted leaves have white undersides—another clue to identification—and the flowers are greenish-white. Wineberries are perennial shrubs. Each cane lives only two years, but plants produce new canes every year. First-year canes are vegetative. Second-year canes flower and fruit, then die, but are replaced by new first-year canes.
If wineberry plants infest your land, you can take action in several ways. Uproot them with a garden fork, but be sure to get the entire root system or it will resprout. You can even hand-pull them. Just be sure to wear long sleeves and sturdy gloves; elbow-length leather rose-gloves prove useful here. This can be done any time of year, even in winter. You can also cut the canes near ground level and spray the cut stump with concentrated herbicide such as glyphosate. (Choose a concentrated product meant to be mixed with water, but use it full strength. Pour the herbicide carefully into a labeled, hand-held squirt bottle used only for that purpose.) Herbicide diluted with water to the strength indicated on the container of the concentrated product can be used as a foliar spray, but be careful to avoid spraying desirable plants under or around the wineberries.
It may take several years of controlled effort to rid your land of these prickly plants. Once they’re gone, if you’re overcome with a wineberry craving come summer, get yourself a box of raspberries at the grocers or farmer’s market—they taste great, too!
Susan Austin Roth is a volunteer with the Blue Ridge PRISM, a nonprofit dedicated to educating the public about invasive plants. For more information, visit online at www.blueridgeprism.org.