Alright, it certainly seems like I’m always posting about berries. I guess it’s got to do with my super-duper-sweet tooth, or maybe it’s the fact that I grow so many of them that they kind of saturate my life this time of year.
Yesterday I was out foraging for wild black raspberries in the old orchard. There are massive islands of black raspberries out there, and after Monday’s wonderful gift of rain the berrie
s are swelling from their previous raisin-like state into shiny, delicious little berry sirens. I can hear their call from my bedroom window each morning (above the sound of our super-obnoxious before-dawn adolescent rooster, aptly named “Dinner”). The raspberries are the reason I wake before dawn this time of year. I run a summer day camp at the horse farm where I teach, and with my busy schedule there is little time for the foraging of these little black jewels.
Yesterday evening was a rare evening that I found myself home from the horse farm earlier than usual. Despite feeling as thought I was filled with sandbags, and being so tired I couldn’t make much sense of the world, I grabbed a little berry bucket and headed out into the orchard to pick black raspberries before dinner. It wasn’t until I’d decided it was nearly time for me to give up the ghost and crash for the night that I spotted them.
A mysterious little red berry, masquerading as an unripe black raspberry on a cane very similar to the others thatched around it. This little red berry had 1-5 fruit-lobes that were considerably bigger than the many lobes found on the black raspberry. The odd thing is that it looked ripe! I started looking around me and found several other plants bearing these strange berries so I decided to pick one and smooooosh it against my hand to smell it. This berry might just be a god among fruits. I haven’t tasted it yet, but the deeply musky smell of raspberries that it emitted after I assaulted it with my clumsy hands was more intense than any other berry I’ve ever smelled. It was intense!
Like a small child who has stumbled across a rare and beautiful baby bird, I cupped the little berry in my hand, abandoned all other tasks and hastily marched up the the house with a huge and unhindered grin splayed across my face. I had forgotten completely what it felt like to be this intensely surprised by mother nature. I’ve been foraging for wild berries since I was very young (Michigan is known for it’s wild low-bush blueberries – yum!) and to discover a berry I had never seen before, especially one so beautiful, tiny and alluring, was enough to give me butterflies in my suddenly-eight-years-old-again stomach.
After literally hours of sifting through google images, university extension offices and more, I came up with nothing. I began to think I had some slightly lame mutation of a cultivated raspberry, and slumped around defeatedly for the rest of the night.
Then, today while I was at the horse farm I took a student on a trail ride. I love to share my trivial nature knowledge with my students as we ride along, pointing out medicinal plants and edible berries. We rounded a bend and came to a thicket where I had often foraged wild blackberries as a teen and as I was pointing it out to her I stopped mid sentence. What were those little tiny gleams of red poking through the blackberry brambles? My Mysterious Ms. Rubus! Like a taunting child, the berries peered at me, just out of reach from the saddle. I dare not dismount from my horse because unfortunately I had chosen to take one of my less-seasoned horses out on the trail and I knew if I hopped off to inspect a berry she would make all sorts of trouble for me and I’d probably never get back in the saddle. So, I let the berries sing their siren song, and I stuffed my ears with cotton and rode on, satisfied by the suspicion that the little berries in our orchard are not just a fluke mutation. But what are they?
So I come to you, dear readers, with my query. These little gems are consistently 2-5 large lobes of deep red goodness. They grow on a very upright cane and have leaves that are exactly like other cultivated raspberries (pointed, not rounded), but smaller and more dense where they grow from the cane. They grow in part shade, in South Eastern Michigan, and both patches were found in loamy, non-acidic soil. Hmm…