To be honest, some of our native brambleberries are not for the faint of heart or tidy-small-space gardener. The wild Rubus is a romping, happy grower that, while providing much beneficial cover and shelter for songbirds, can easily become a thicket when given sufficient moisture and nutrients.

If you've ever grown cultivated raspberries you have the idea, but the amount of spread is greater for the wilder members of the group. However, if you have an untamed hedgerow or left-on-its-own shady area in your landscape for the sake of attracting birds to your garden, then a native Rubus might be the perfect addition.

The genus contains both shrubs (R. parviflorus, R. spectabilis) and ground covers (R. lasiococcus, R. pedatus). ground cover forms are very difficult to find, so we’ll stick to the shrubby types in this review.


Rubus parviflorus Thimbleberry

This shrub is deciduous, thornless, and generally tops out at about six feet, spreading laterally by underground, woody rhizomes. Largish, maple-shaped leaves and papery white blossoms begin to appear in late-spring. The berries that follow are red when ripe, and separate from their receptacles like cultivated raspberries, giving them the thimble shape of its common name.

This is the one Rubus that can be found east of the Cascades, so it is perhaps more tolerant of drier, sunnier conditions, though it will still thrive in wooded settings. Can grow in full sun to partial shade, and because it so readily forms suckers it is a good plant for erosion control on untamed slopes. Flowers attract butterflies and birds appreciate its protective cover along with the berries. Some people also like the berries, though some find the taste rather bland. (Photo credit of Thimbleberry Bush - Dennis Ancinec)


Rubus spectabilis Salmonberry

Though salmonberry can grow in full sun with sufficient water, this is the Rubus most commonly found along our west Cascade hiking trails. The upright, arching branches vary from nearly thornless to quite thorny, and are apt to grow to ten feet, if left unpruned. It blooms in early spring shortly before the full development of the large, palmate leaves.

The flowers are an eye-shocking pinkish-purple that are a magnet for hummingbirds, and are a striking contrast to the bright green of the new leaves that follow. The fruit, which also resembles the raspberry, is small, orange to red. The flavor can vary widely, but it is generally considered tastier than thimbleberry. But even if you don't like the taste, birds finding their way to your garden definitely will. Found along streams and in moist woods, this is the one for wetter areas. It too will create a formidable thicket that birds find good protective cover (though slightly drier conditions might keep the spread a bit more in check. Maybe. A bit.)

Photos by The Wild Garden