Rubus ursinus


Scientific name: Rubus ursinus

Plant family: Rosaceae

Description: Rubus ursinus is a deciduous, trailing shrub with thin, curved thorns on the canes. The dark green leaves grow in leaflets of three, long, toothed and pointed leaves, three to seven centimeters long. The terminal leaf in the leaflet has three lobes, each pointed and toothed.[1] The leaves have a slightly prickly texture and are lighter green on the underside.[2]The large, flat-topped flowers (about four centimeters across) are white or pink and grow in clusters at the ends of the fruiting canes from April to August.[3] The fruits are conical or oblong blackberries, hard, green then red when unripe and soft and black when ripe, about a centimeter long.[4]

Habitat and Range: Rubus ursinus is found in forested and disturbed areas, in sun or shade[5] from Southern California to British Columbia, Idaho, and Montana.[6]

Historical and Contemporary Uses:

Rubus ursinus was and continues to be a common food source for many of the tribes living within its range. The berries are eaten fresh by members of almost every tribe within its range who processes various parts of the plant.

Other common food preparations other than simply eating the berries raw include drying, baking, and teas. The Diegueño (Southern California), Quileute (Northern Olympic Penninsula), Cowlitz (Eastern Washington) and the Thompson (British Columbia) all dried the berries whole and stored them for a winter food, after eating them fresh. The Salish people on Vancouver Island and the Saanich (Vancouver, San Juans, British Columbia area) both mashed the berries before drying them into cakes that they saved for the winter. The Vancouver Island Salish rehydrated the cakes in hot water before eating in the winter months.[7]

Some Native Americans (Kashaya Pomo, Thompson, and Makah),[8] as well as non-indigenous people in America, now use the berries to make pies, jams, preserves, and sauces. Though Rubus ursinus is now less common than the Himalayan blackberry, the native berries are equally good for baking and cooking.[9]

The berries are not the only edible part of the plant. The Saanich dry the leaves of the plant to make a tea, while the Quileute use both the dried leaves and stems of the plant to make a tea. This is not a medicinal tea but simply tasty! [8, 9]

[1] Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon. Revised Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast (Vancouver, BC: Lone Pine Publishing, 2004), 78.

[2] “Species: Rubus ursinus” in the US Forest Service’s Fire Effects Information System, accessed November 6, 2011,

[3] “Rubus ursinus Trailing Blackberry,” Washington Native Plant Society, accessed November 6, 2011, last modified Novmeber 8, 2007.

[4] Rubus ursinus Cham. & Schltdl. California blackberry,” USDA Plants Profile, accessed November 6, 2011, 

[5] Photo credit to California Polytechnic University,

[8] Search: Rubus ursinus,” Native American Ethnobotany Database from University of Michigan — Dearborn, accessed November 6, 2011,

[9] Plants For A Future, accessed November 6, 2011