Southern Dewberry

Rubus trivialis

southern dewberry

Southern Dewberry, photographed at Cypress Creek Natural Area, Jupiter, Palm Beach County, in February 2015.

If you're from parts north of here, Southern dewberry, Rubus trivialis, might bring to mind a similar plant — the blackberry. The flower is similar, the serrated, compound leaves are similar, the thorny canes are similar and the fruit is similar and delicious (we certainly can atest to blackberries; dewberries are in our future).

The resemblance is no accident. Both dewberry and blackberry are members of the same family, Rosaceae, the rose family. The one major difference between the two: blackberry is more upright, while dewberry winds along the ground. The sprawl of a single dewberry plant might be as much as 15 feet.

Southern dewberry is a Florida native, found throughout most of the Peninsula and Panhandle. It's not found in either Miami-Dade or Monroe counties. It's also native to the eastern and central United States as far north as Pennsylvania and Illinois and as far west as Kansas and Texas. Ohio is part of its range, but the Buckeye State considers dewberry to be extinct within it borders. The Institute for Regional Conservation considers southern dewberry a rare plant in South Florida, but it is not listed as either threatened or endangered by the state or by the feds. We've seen two populations of southern dewberry, both of which were in the northern end of Palm Beach County.

Like its cousin, dewberry can form dense thickets. Its leaves are compound, each with three to five serrated leaflets. The flowers, which bloom in spring, have five petals with a red center, but we've seen pictures of dewberry with more of a yellow center as well (the flower in the photo below, center is yellow). The stems are protected by small, curved prickles along their length. It grows in full or partial sun, and in moist soils.

Search the Internet and you'll find recipes for dewberry pies and jams, which should give you an idea of how good they are. Native Americans picked the fruit to make juice and to eat out of hand.

But for Native Americans, it was also the source of numerous herbal medicines, with the leaves used as well as the fruit. The Cherokee used southern dewberry to make an antidiarrhea medicine, a treatment for hemorrhoids, arthritis, sore throat and as a general tonic. They also used it to regulate urination and as a treatment for venereal disease.

The Seminoles used the leaves to make a tea to sooth stomach problems.

Southern dewberry is an important source of food for many birds and mammals. The nectar attracts insects, particularly honeybees, bumble bees and other bee species. Birds are fond of the fruit, including red headed woodpeckers and wild turkey. Small mammals also munch the fruit. Deer and rabbits will browse the stems and leaves. Small animals find cover within the prickly thickets it forms.

Click on photo for larger image

Published by Wild South Florida, PO Box 7241, Delray Beach, FL 33482.

Photographs by David Sedore. Photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without permission.