Our Northwest

Blame Burbank for death-defying NW blackberries

Tuesday, September 6, 2016by  Jon Osterberg
I suspect the Himalayan Blackberry is among Northwest homeowners' most-detested invasive plants, aside from its few fruitful weeks in July and August. 
     I didn't know who to blame until I read an article explaining how Luther Burbank stumbled across the thorny nuisance while cultivating his experimental California plant farm.
     Yes, the same Burbank for whom the Mercer Island park is named.
     Burbank reportedly set out to breed new varieties of fruits and vegetables that could tolerate lengthy transcontinental railroad shipments. He traded seeds with other growers, and one day he received a package from India containing seeds for a huge, sweet blackberry.
     The plant grew like a weed – literally – in temperate zones, like the Pacific Coast and Puget Sound region. Sun or shade, clay or peat, it makes no difference, the Himalayan Blackberry thrives. It even sprouts new roots wherever the tip of the vine touches soil. 
     As a child, I loved and hated blackberries. Loved them, because each year as Seafair drew near, my mom would lead our family into the vacant fields near our home where we'd pick the berries that overran the landscape. Soon we'd gobble blackberry pie or blackberry freezer jam.
     And I hated them for the same reason. Mom scolded me for plopping two berries into my mouth for every one that I dropped into the empty milk carton. She and my big sister always accused me of eating more than I contributed.
     I spent a full afternoon last month wrestling with blackberry vines that encroached from my neighbor's backyard. Previously I had tried systemic weed killer with only partial success, so I determined that the surest way to eliminate them is to wear thick leather gloves and uproot the pesky things. So far, so good.
     On KUOW Public Radio's website you'll find a fun story about the eccentric Burbank and how he also planned to refine humans into the "finest race ever known."

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