Did you know that black raspberries and blackberries are entirely different fruits? Both are cane fruits, producing berries on thorny, arching stems (called canes). Both are members of the Rubus genus, which also includes raspberries and wineberries (and dewberries and boysenberries and cloudberries, among others). And all bramble berries (Rubus species) are aggregate fruits. Each bump on the berry is actually an individual fruit that is part of an aggregate berry.
That’s what they have in common. But what’s the difference between black raspberries and blackberries?
Blackberries are large (up to 1 1/2 inches long), coarsely bumpy, and they ripen in late summer. Their thorns are large and curved and have an uncanny ability to grab onto human flesh and never let go. Blackberries have a solid white center.
Black raspberries are smaller than blackberries, usually no bigger than your thumbnail. They have a hollow center which is visually obvious once the berry has been picked. Also, the bumps on the outside of the fruit are smaller than those of blackberries. Black raspberry thorns, while definitely grabby, aren’t quite as committed to drawing blood as blackberry thorns are. The flavor of the two fruits is also quite different, with black raspberries being sweeter and more delicate.
There are two species of black raspberries common to the United States. R. occidentalis is native to the East Coast and R. leucodermis is native to western North America. The two species look and taste very much alike. A third species, R. coreanus is found in China, Korea, and Japan. Another common name for black raspberries is black caps. I’m not sure why, because they are WAY too small to wear on your head.
How To Harvest Black Raspberries
Black raspberries have an interesting growth habit. The crown of the plant is perennial, but the canes are biennial. Canes grow vegetatively the first year; the second year they flower, fruit, and die. This means you’ll only harvest fruit from second year growth.
When black raspberry fruit is ripe, it practically falls off the cane into your hand. Black raspberries ripen gradually in mid summer, over a period of two to three weeks. It’s worth checking your black raspberry spots once a week to maximize your harvest.
Like red raspberries, black raspberries are a delicate fruit. They’ll keep for a day or two in the refrigerator, but can be preserved longer by freezing. Wash the fruit by soaking it briefly in water. Running the berries under a faucet may break the fruit, so soak it instead of rinsing it, then drain the berries on a paper towel. When they’re dry, spread the dry berries in a single layer on a cookie sheet covered with wax paper, and freeze. When the fruit is frozen, transfer it to ziplock bags for long term storage. Blackberries can be cleaned and preserved in the same way.
Black raspberries are a versatile fruit. They’re delicious straight off the cane, but if you can resist eating them all while you pick, try them in jams, jellies, cobbler, pie, sorbet, ice cream, and for a French twist try a black raspberry clafoutis. Blackberries can be used in all the same ways, but remember, their flavor, size, and season are slightly different. I hope you enjoy them both as much as I do.
Emma Cooper says
Black raspberries are virtually unheard of here in the UK. We have lots of blackberries, but black raspberries can’t be found growing wild. They haven’t (yet!) caught on as garden fruits either, although I don’t know why. The only UK supplier of plants at the moment seems to be Suttons. I may add one to my garden in due course, they sound like delightful fruits 🙂 Thanks for sharing!
Interesting. I would have expected black raspberries to be a common hedgerow plant! They truly are wonderful…I prefer them to blackberries.
I live in Michigan and have an overpopulation of Black Raspberries aka Black Caps. My guess is that the term “cap” is due to the hollow like center after being picked.
I think that’s a really good guess!
william mcduff says
I’m fortunate because we have some domestic ones we’ve planted and propagated along our garden fence in several locations. And there are 2 patches of wild ones in nearby parks which I harvested last year. The wild ones I cleaned up earlier this spring and separated the new canes in two which had tip layered. We only got 3 1/2 lbs of wild ones last year but should do better this year due to the pruning I did.
Good for you on cleaning up the wild patch! I love it when foragers care for wild plant populations.
Amanda J Walshjamin says
What are the recommendations for cleaning these up? I have a lot and we love them, but not sure how to prune and clean up the surroundings
Hi Amanda, Since I don’t grow them (I forage for them!), I can’t speak from personal experience, but I do know that black raspberries bloom on second year wood, so regular pruning is required for the best harvest. A quick google search for “how to prune black raspberries” turns up several good videos and instruction sets. Look at those from Stark Bros., Gurneys, and Iowa State Extension. Those are all reliable sources.
Michele Printup says
I am a black raspberry eater my entire life and are my all time favorite, next to watermelon. Up until recently when I moved to a new area and much older cannot find a wild patch and people are very protective of their berries so I have found a vegetable stand who sell them either picked that morning or pick your own they are beautiful, rows upon rows of organic black raspberries. OMG 😲 I don’t have to go deep into a bush anymore and come out looking like a cat attacked me!! Well after retiring I learned how to can or as they used to say put up and freeze them whole. In the middle of winter I can taste the fresh sweet tasty treat but have not learned how to freeze and thaw without being soggy and eat by the hand full but there are many ways to enjoy came up making my own recipe for black raspberry…
Blanche Derby says
I make blackcap juice then freeze it in ice cube trays. Once the juice is frozen, then I can put the individual cubes in freezer bags . I use these cubes in smoothies, thaw one or two to put over ice cream or. Yogurt. The process to make the juice is easy, although messy ( wear an apron to avoid splatter.): put berries in a pan with a small amount of water , heat slightly & press on the berries with a potato masher. To release juice keep pressing to get as much out. Then I strain the clump through a strainer with small openings ( so you don’t get all the seeds) still pressing down! Put cooled juice in ice cube trays & freeze….