Different types of blackberries are distinguished by the presence of thorns and by cane type. You can have thorny or thornless blackberries. In addition, there are 3 cane types: erect, trailing, and semi-erect. Erect and trailing varieties can be thornless or thorny. However, semi-erect blackberries are nearly always thornless. All wild blackberries you encounter will belong to one of these 5 types.
How Do You Identify Different Types of Blackberries?
The easiest way to tell blackberries apart is by the presence of thornless or thorny canes. Next, you can identify whether the canes are erect, trailing, or semi-erect. Erect blackberries stand straight or nearly straight up. Trailing blackberries, by contrast, crawl along the ground. Semi-erect blackberries split the difference between erect and trailing.
- Begin by checking for thorns: if the blackberry canes have no thorns, they are a thornless variety.
- If the blackberries stand up straight, they are erect blackberries.
- Blackberries that grow along the ground are trailing blackberries.
- If the blackberry canes reach the height of a few feet before flopping over, they are semi-erect blackberries.
- You can also tell some types of blackberries apart by where they grow.
You can identify different blackberries by growth habits and location. Different blackberry plants grow in slightly different environments. Erect and semi-erect varieties are hardier than trailing varieties. This means that they are better able to withstand the cold than trailing varieties. So, if you’re in a region with snowy winters, you’re unlikely to find trailing blackberries.
What are the 5 Types of Blackberry Bushes?
While there are dozens of blackberry cultivars, most break down into five main types. When identifying wild blackberries or purchasing blackberries for your garden, it’s essential to know what variety you’re working with. Each has a different ideal growing environment and different fruit quality. Here are the five types and their distinguishing characteristics:
Erect, Thorny Blackberries
Erect, thorny blackberries have an upright cane with thorns. They also tend to grow the largest berries. However, these large berries are less flavorful than fruit grown from trailing blackberries. Even those who prefer erect, thorny blackberries often admit that they are more prone to bitter flavors.
- Identifiable by their upright or erect canes with thorns.
- Berries are larger than average and less sweet than other varieties.
- Unlike many blackberry types, some erect blackberry canes produce fruit during their first year.
- Erect, thorny blackberries can grow in regions with cold winters.
Erect blackberries can be primocane-fruiting blackberry bushes, meaning their canes bear fruit during their first year of growth. So if you plant this type, be ready for swift fruit production. In comparison, other blackberries are typically floricane varieties. The individual canes on floricane blackberries do not produce fruit until the cane is in its second year of growth. Erect blackberries also have the highest plant hardiness of any variety. Its large fruits survive cold temperatures better than smaller and sweeter varieties.
Erect, Thornless Blackberries
This variety of blackberry has upright canes without thorns. You may expect them to bear similar-sized fruit to erect thorny varieties but this isn’t the case. Erect, thornless blackberry varieties actually have the smallest berry size, which results in excellent flavor. Erect, thornless blackberry cultivars are often considered to have the sweetest blackberries.
- Distinguished by upright canes without thorns.
- Known for small, very sweet berries.
- Erect, thornless blackberries are more cold-hardy than trailing blackberry varieties.
- Erect blackberries can grow to a height of 12 feet (3.6 meters).
The erect, thornless blackberry variety is the second hardiest of the blackberry plants. So, it can survive cold winters that will kill trailing and semi-erect blackberries. Something else to remember is that erect varieties of all sorts grow up to 12 feet tall (3.6 meters).
Trailing, Thorny Blackberries
Trailing blackberries can sometimes have thorns. However, the thorns on trailing blackberry varieties are small and much less likely to cause painful scratches than the large thorns found on erect blackberries. So, if you find a blackberry plant with small thorns that break off easily, you’re typically dealing with a variety of thorny, trailing blackberry.
- Look for thin canes with small, delicate thorns.
- If the thorns break off easily when the cane is touched or grasped, it’s probably a trailing, thorny blackberry.
- Trailing, thorny blackberries can be found in the wild in the Pacific Northwest but do not grow well in colder regions.
It is common to find trailing, thorny blackberries in the wild in the Pacific Northwest United States. Trailing blackberries grow poorly in cold conditions and often fail to produce fruit if exposed to cold. If you wish to grow blackberries in a region with long winters, choose a different variety.
Trailing, Thornless Blackberries
Trailing blackberries have a cane that lies along the ground or crawls over fences, trellises, and other plants. These types bear small, delicate fruit during harvest season. Trialing, thornless blackberries are known for their especially sweet flavor that is prized by blackberry growers.
- Look for ground-level canes without thorns.
- In some cases, trailing blackberries will climb trellises and other plants, but they will not stand by themselves.
- The berries are smaller than average and sweeter.
- Considered especially high-quality fruit.
Trailing varieties are the least hardy of any blackberry type. They also grow longer than erect varieties do, with canes reaching up to 20 feet in length (6 meters). So, if you find thin, thorn-free blackberry canes in a region without harsh winters, you’ve probably encountered a thornless, trailing blackberry.
Semi-Erect, Thornless Blackberries
Semi-erect blackberries are a hybrid of trailing and erect blackberries. The canes will often grow upward for the first 3–4 feet (1 meter). Then, the tops of the canes will bow out and down toward the ground. Additionally, almost all semi-erect blackberries are thornless. This makes them easier to identify, even though it makes the plants less cold-hardy.
- Can be identified by canes that grow upright for 3–4 feet (1 meter) before the tops begin to bend toward the ground.
- In almost all cases, semi-erect blackberries have no thorns.
- Berries grown on semi-erect canes are average in size and flavor.
- Semi-erect blackberries withstand cold winters better than trailing varieties but not as well as erect varieties.
The berries grown on semi-erect canes are a compromise between their parent plants. Their ripe berries are often described as medium-sized fruit relative to other blackberries. Their flavor is also not as bitter nor as sweet as others. Semi-erect blackberries can be a good compromise plant if you can’t decide between erect and trailing. This will give you a taste of both worlds without needing to commit to either.
What Variety of Blackberry is Best?
Which blackberry is best depends on your needs and the climate where you are growing them. Choose erect blackberries if you are growing in USDA plant hardiness zones 4 and 5. Doyle is an erect, thornless blackberry that produces sweet fruit and can grow as far north as zone 4. For even more cold hardiness, choose Illini Hardy blackberries. These erect blackberries have thorns, but they are the best at surviving the cold.
- In zones 4 and 5, grow erect blackberries.
- Doyle is an erect, thornless blackberry that can grow in regions as cold as zone 4.
- Illini Hardy is an erect, thorny blackberry that can withstand very cold winters.
- Triple Crown is a trailing, thornless blackberry that produces amazing fruit and grows in zones 5–9.
If you’re looking to grow blackberries in zones 5 through 9, we recommend a high-yielding blackberry. Triple Crown is one of the best choices. This trailing blackberry has no thorns and it produces an abundance of sweet fruit. It’s a great choice for your first blackberry plant.
How Many Types of Blackberries are There?
There are 5 main types of blackberries that you will encounter in the wild and in plant nurseries. All types of blackberries will belong to one of these groups. Here is a handy guide to remember the different types of blackberries:
- Blackberries are classified as thorny or thornless.
- Blackberries come in 3 cane types: erect, trailing, and semi-erect.
- Erect, thorny cultivars grow bigger, less sweet berries but have the best cold hardiness.
- Erect, thornless cultivars grow the smallest, sweetest blackberries.
- Trailing, thorny blackberries often grow in the wild.
- Trialing, thornless blackberries do not tolerate cold but produce some of the most delicious blackberries.
- Semi-erect cultivars almost never have thorns. They grow medium-sized berries with average flavor.
With this guide in hand, you’re well on your way to mastering blackberry growing. Find out which blackberry type is right for your agricultural zone and try planting some today.