Boysenberries are perfect for pies, preserves or eating fresh.

Identifying Boysenberries

by Brian Barth

Busy moms can count many good reasons for planting a berry crop. They are the easiest fruits to grow at home and take up very little space in the garden compared to fruit trees. Kids love to pick berries and the plants are perfectly kid-sized. Boysenberries (Rubus spp.) grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9 and are one of the best-flavored varieties out there. If you have a patch of berries and can't figure out which ones are boysenberries, observe the fruit and growth habit carefully to make a positive identification.

1. Origins

Boysenberry is a hybrid between blackberries (Rubus spp.) and raspberries (Rubus spp.) and has a blend of characteristics from its two parent plants. Blackberries and raspberries grow in USDA zones 6 to 8 and 4 to 9, respectively, and are closely related in form and fruit characteristics. The fruit of raspberries is hollow like a thimble when picked, while blackberries come off the plant along with their pithy, white center. Boysenberries have the latter characteristic and are thus classified as a type of blackberry. This is the first clue to identifying the boysenberry.

2. Fruit

The color and texture of boysenberries is a perfect blend between raspberries and blackberries. The fruit matures to a deep wine-red or maroon color, halfway between the bright red of raspberries and the pitch black of blackberries. The flavor is also a blend of raspberry sweetness and blackberry tang. However, the fruit is exceptionally large compared to with the common varieties of either raspberry or blackberry -- ripe boysenberries can grow to over 2 inches in length.

3. Growth Habit

Boysenberries have the growth habit of raspberries. They are low, vine-like plants that need to be staked to some type of trellis to keep from getting out of hand. New canes constantly grow from the roots, making a characteristic boysenberry "patch." One identifying feature of boysenberries are the thornless canes, unlike the thorny brambles of their parent species and wild relatives. Each cane grows 5 or 6 feet long with the flowers and fruit growing on short stems along the canes.

4. Other Characteristics

Boysenberry flowers are white, with five petals each and are about 1 to 1-1/2 inches across. They appear in late spring, followed by the fruit in mid-summer. The leaves grow in clusters of three or five and have serrated margins. They are deep green in color, unlike raspberry leaves which are light green and often have a blue-grey hue on the undersides. One final identifying characteristic of boysenberries is the difference between one and two year old canes. Each spring, new canes grow from the ground, forming only leaves. The next year they flower, bear fruit and die. This cycle continues year after year with heavy crops of these luscious fruits.

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