Life Among the Dewberry Vines

For humans, the good points of Southern dewberries (Rubus trivialis) are obvious; they provide pretty flowers and delicious fruit. Unfortunately, berry pickers, nature photographers, or walkers cutting across vacant lots or fields inevitably encounter the plant’s most obvious bad point: remarkably thorny vines seemingly intent on ensnaring anyone who wanders within reach.

For the bees, butterflies, skippers, and various flies that suck nectar or collect pollen from the blossoms, the thorns pose no problem. They simply go about their business, flying among them with ease. But nectar and pollen aren’t the only reasons for insects to stop by a dewberry flower.

Here, a common, non-biting midge (probably Chironomus plumosus, named for the feathery, plume-like antennae of the male) rests on one petal, while a pair of hover flies do their part to ensure the continuation of their species. Remarkably, the one-inch long petal on which I found them provided more than enough space for the happy couple to enjoy themselves. 

As an interesting side note, Shakespeare referred to dewberries in Act 3, Scene 1 of his comedic fantasy A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The fairy queen Titania, having fallen for weaver Nick Bottom after imbibing a love potion, tells her fairies:

Be kind and courteous to this gentleman. Hop in his walks and gambol in his eyes; Feed him with apricocks and dewberries, with purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries.

But, she might have added, watch out for those thorns.


Comments always are welcome.


64 thoughts on “Life Among the Dewberry Vines

  1. Linda, you’re either the luckiest photographer I know or the most patient! How in the world did you capture that mating couple?? Gee, they have no shame, huh?!! I think I’d steer a wide berth around those thorns — they look pretty intimidating.

    1. There’s no question that both luck and patience were involved, Debbie. For one thing, I was lucky that it was cold and rainy, since many insects seem to slow down in bad conditions just like we do. I was lucky they were on white petals, too. It made them much easier to see on such a cloudy day.

      I think dewberry thorns are among the worst. You can see a thistle, but those vines often are covered up by grasses or shrubs, and you don’t know they’re around until you make contact. I sit down to take many of my photos, and there’s nothing more aggravating than sitting on thorns.

  2. Oh yes, I’ve been nicked many-a-time. I have a bramble of dewberries at the back of my large garden and am forever scratched. Of course, it might help if I’d wear gloves. Your captures are beautiful, especially of the critters who are often too small to be noticed by humans and thorns.

    1. Did you plant your dewberries, or did they just appear? Are they hard to keep under control? They spread so widely in natural settings my assumption has been that they’d try to take over in a garden, like your spiderwort. It may be that they spread so wildly in other settings because they aren’t pruned.

      When I first began photographing flowers, I had no idea how many critters were living in, on, and around them. Butterflies and bees are obvious, but I’ve learned that they’re only a part of the story. The few flies I’ve come to know are delightful, too — and not nearly as annoying as the common house fly!

      1. I planted mine, a sprig or two, with roots attached, taken from a garden that I was tending. Yes, they spread a little, but very little indeed. Mostly, I’ve taken strands and directed them to a trellis in the back of the garden and over time, the dewberries are filling in that area. Occasionally, I have to pull a bit up, but it’s been a low effort plant. I don’t really get to enjoy the berries, as the migrating birds (I’m looking at YOU Grey catbirds! ) beat me to them. And, I, in turn, enjoy watching the birds!

  3. Thanks, Linda, for the pictures and the info. I’m wondering now if they – in spite of their thorns – might be something for our garden. I need to check them out.

    1. They would be a great addition for wildlife, as well as providing fruit for you. There’s a list here of some of the critters who enjoy them, including deer. Your herd would be happy to have more of them around.

      They are low-growing, and tend to run along the ground rather than growing upright as some blackberries do. You might ask how hard they are to keep under control in a more “civilized” space like a garden. Oddly, my friend in Kerrville tried to get some established and couldn’t, but she’s on top of a ridge, and dry. She has more rock than soil, too, and that surely made a difference.

    2. A gardening friend in Austin just left an additional comment just above yours, where she offers some details about how the dewberries do in her garden. It sounds like they could work perfectly well for you.

  4. You have a gift of transporting me back in time to my childhood years; on this trip I’m riding my horse to the far side of the wheat fields, where the horse will graze while I pick dewberries (Mother always warned, ‘Watch out for snakes.’

    You captured the beauty of the crisp white blossoms, and I too am impressed that you spotted those insects!

    With a quick scan of news, I am now pondering all of that snow/ice heading down the Mississippi on top of water that’s already high. Only Mother Nature knows what’s the dewberry-picking conditions will be like!

    1. Everyone who goes dewberry picking gets The Warning, I suppose. Even though I was photographing and not picking, I got it from a couple of guys on Sunday — along with some interesting local history and some tips on how to distinguish one picked-over rib cage from another. It’s not just wildflowers out there!

      You’re right that the water’s high. The Atchafalaya’s just at flood stage at Butte La Rose, but the Mississippi’s about ten feet over: 44′ at Baton Rouge today, with flood stage at 35. You may have read about Nebraska’s terrible flooding on the Niobrara River. Here’s a good local article. There won’t be any berry picking there for a while.

      1. si, that bad weather/flooding is horrid; i looked at some notices yesterday, but this link is a very good one. it covers a lot.

        a good friend lives ‘behind the levee’ near clarksdale/ms and they have been ‘out of their home’ for six or more weeks. the water had just crested and lacked about a foot getting into their home. i wonder if this melt upriver will affect them. the three-day forecasts look ‘normal’ – i don’t see how the river could ‘not’ leap higher, but ole man river don’t say nuthin, does he – except to keep on rollin’ along.

        time to go to the printer’s house and pick up some ‘project material’ we’ve been working on. then to the museo to look at the display/exhibition room, then home.

        you’ll find this ecuador weather summary interesting:
        and this;

    2. I just realized today’s the equinox. Any egg-balancing going on down there? I just found the most interesting article about the popularization of the fad — in wartime China. The story’s on pages 36 and 37 of this March 19, 1945 issueof Life magazine.

      1. si; happy equinox! thanks for that link, and the egg-balancing is always a fun op – year round here.

        i am away from poza honda and in the port city of manta. yesterday’s report from ph was about a very strong storm that hit around noon. lots of thunder and lightening and i suppose rain. it was sunny in manta, and right now cloudy. surely the sun will appear for a noon-shadow photo op?

    1. Indeed, it is. I’ve noticed some territorial squabbling among the birds in the past week, and a lot more bird song. It’s the sound of spring, as well as the look of spring that flowers give us.

    1. Well, we can be quite an obnoxious species at times, but I don’t think there’s any reason to feel left out. We’re as much a part of nature as the midge or the dewberry vine, although our purposes are somewhat different. Scholars and philosophers have argued for millenia over what those purposes might be, but as a minimum I’d say we’re called to appreciate the world, care for the world, and honor the creative force that brought the world into being — however we understand that force.

      Beyond that, it’s Spring, and time to party on the petal!

  5. Our canyon is full of blackberries, Linda, and I suspect mating bugs. It’s always a thorny challenge getting through them: the blackberries, not the bugs. It’s fun to watch the deer chomping down on ripe blackberries. They are very careful. Right now, as I type, a team of prisoners, the modern version of the old chain gang, is working its way through our canyon to reduce fire danger. The fire department has a deal with the sheriff’s department. We pay a modest amount, the prisoners get some good clean air exercise plus the opportunity to wield a chainsaw, fire danger is reduced, and the fire department and jail get much needed extra cash. It’s a good deal all around. But I am not sure that the mating bugs think much of the effort. –Curt

    1. A friend and I were talking last week about the chain gangs we’ve seen. Mine was in Louisiana, and it certainly was a sight that stirred complex emotions: the guards on horseback, the prisoners in black and white stripes, the chains linking one man to another.

      Your “modern version” seems better, but now I’m curious about what was going on with those Louisiana prisoners. I read that chain gangs ended in 1955, and then were re-instituted in the mid-1990s. I need to figure out when I saw those men in prison stripes. I know exactly where it was, so it shouldn’t be hard to track down the history. Perhaps there was a rogue Louisiana sheriff doing his thing.

      I didn’t realize until quite recently that deer will eat dewberry plants. A Texas ag site says that, since ours are green throughout most of the year, they’re a useful forage crop for deer when things are lean.

      1. Two thoughts here, Linda. The old chain gangs were a form of punishment. The work that is being done on our property is a form of reward. These guys get out under limited supervision and are learning a valuable skill in this day and age of fires. In California, they are presently trying to change laws so that when the men get out of prison they can go to work with the forest service in fighting forest fires. The jobs pay well and fill a critical need now. Given how hard it is for ex-convicts to get a job, it seems like a perfect solution… a real chance to start anew.
        Our deer wait until the berries are ripe and sweet. I think that they will be irritated at me for cleaning out the canyon. I’ll let the berries along the creek grow back. Being irritated didn’t stop the deer from making their way down the canyon and checking out the work that the crew was doing. The men were quite amused.

  6. I’ll have to swing by Titania’s woods, I like all those fruits and berries she listed. I haven’t tried southern dewberries,but I love wild blackberries, they’re worth a few scratches to get. Your closeup shot is pretty sharp, too, you can see the fly’s leg through one wing.

    1. Some of the midge’s ancestors (pretty far removed) played into a story that combines a number of elements you’ve mentioned recently: baseball, New York, and Lake Erie. I happened across it in a footnote on BugGuide, and it amused me greatly: not only the story itself, but the fact that it showed up on BugGuide.

      Some people think dewberries are too tart, but if you find fully ripe ones, they can be as sweet and juicy as the best blackberry. We’re going to have a bumper crop this year, and the berries already are forming.

      1. I like that story, and it’s nice that during their short lives, they got to see a ballgame.
        Do you have mayflies in Texas? They’re also harmless, but are such weak fliers, sometimes they end up in your mouth when you’re running.

        1. We do have mayflies. I think they’re pretty, but not when they’re around in the hundreds of thousands. That’s a little too here-comes-the-plague for me.

  7. I just learned today, that dewberries can be consumed and that tea can be made from the leaves or petals. That was in the NPSOT article today about Edible plants for a small garden. Your photo is a treasure. Thank you always.

    1. Have you never had dewberry cobbler? I can’t imagine such a thing. When the berries ripen, I’ll have to whip one up for you — there’s nothing better in the world, unless it’s a fresh Texas peach cobbler.

      I saw that article, and enjoyed it. I was surprised as could be to see frogfruit included. I never would have guessed that one was edible — except for a frog, perhaps! Isn’t that a fun photo of the insects? I do love my macro lens. It’s opened up an entirely new world to me.

    1. Even at the time, I thought the rain and cold weather might have been keeping them rather sluggish. Once I realized they weren’t going to fly off, I slowed down, too, and managed these images.

    2. While I was pondering the clouds of midges that were flying into my varnish this afternoon, I wondered if there might be a relationship — at least etymologically — between midges and midgets. In fact, there is, and it’s interesting that the word ‘midget’ seems to have been used first for the insect.

      The reference to the ‘musketoe’ is fun, too.

      1. Yes, that “musketoe” spelling is fun. I’m reminded of the “skeeter” that also developed from the word in popular speech. The American Heritage Dictionary says that midge came from Old English mycg.

  8. Quite lovely photo of the blossom. When I was young I would grab a bucket and go along the gravel road’s ditches to pick dewberries for my mother. She made delicious pies that my dad loved and of course so did I. My mother always warned me to take a stick and poke the grasses and vines to scare away any potential snake.

    1. I’d never gone berry picking until I moved to Texas. Cherry and apple picking were my summer delights. There weren’t any thorns involved, but keeping the ladder steady without breaking branches could be a trick. The good news is that my grandmother’s recipe for cherry cobbler worked perfectly well for dewberry cobbler. Now, I can’t wait for those berries to ripen.

      I love the thought of you heading off with your bucket. In my mind, it was galvanized tin, of course. I wondered if any artist had captured the pure pleasure of berry picking, and discovered this Winslow Homer painting.. I hope they carried a stick, too.

      1. LInda, you are correct about viualizing the bucket as a galvanized tin bucket. Or sometimes it happened to be an empty coffee tin. Your grandmother’s recipe is indeed a family heritage and one to be proud to have. Oh, those dewberry cobblers, yum,yum

    1. I was surprised and delighted that I managed to capture even the feathery antennae of the midge. Little details like that fascinate me. The certainly help with identification. There are a lot of midges, and the BugGuide site notes that distinguishing them — let alone whether one’s male or female — often isn’t possible without a microscope. For my purposes, ‘midge’ is good enough. Anything more is (dare i say it?) lagniappe!

      1. I’m always fascinated by the small details in nature too. Sometimes I’m also surprised at what the camera captures in terms of tiny insect details :)

  9. I can’t think of a more pleasant spot for a little dalliance. Makes me suddenly want to be small!

    1. Perhaps some of our best loved fairy tales and other childrens’ stories were born of the same impulse: to be small, and able to see the world from the small ones’ perspective. When I first saw these photos on the computer, I thought of Alice and her Wonderland conversation with the caterpillar. There are hidden stories all around us!

  10. I love the flowers with their delicate white petals. What a perfect Art Nouveau motif they would make. I’d like to see what Daum’s glass factory in Nice could have done with them.

    1. They’re prolific this year, probably because of our consistent rains. Even in town, they’re clambering along fencelines and abandoned railroad tracks, and every vacant lot seems to have at least a few vines. I agree about the petals. Even the buds are gorgeous. In the past, I’ve seen a lot of buds tinged with pink, but this year I’ve only come across pure white; they’d be great models for Daum art glass, too, although the berries seem to be the favored motif.

  11. Dewberries? I never heard of them but looking it up I found them to be related to the blackberry. However, here from Wiki about the dewberries; “The vines, which lack the substantial thorns of a blackberry”, Looking at your photos they do have large thorns as well. I am confused.
    My favourite berry will always be a banana. Easy to eat and very filling.

    1. Perhaps we could file that information about the thorns under “reasons not to assume Wiki is the final authority on all things.” I was confused, as well, until I remembered reading that some species of dewberry aren’t as thorny as ours. On this Illinois wildflower site, I found this illuminating paragraph that compares our southern dewberry to the northern dewberry:

      “There are other [species] that are woody vines in various areas of the state, but they are less common. One of them, Rubus trivialis (Southern Dewberry) is restricted to southern Illinois. Its appearance and growth habit is similar to Common Dewberry (Rubus flagellaris) but the young stems of Southern Dewberry usually have sharp bristles and prickles. The young stems of Common Dewberry have soft hairs and prickles, but not sharp bristles.”

      There’s a photo of the northern dewberry stem in the article, and it does seem relatively thornless.

      I’m a fan of bananas myself, but if I could sit you down with a banana and a bowl of dewberry cobbler, I suspect I know which you’d favor.

  12. The flowers are beautiful — no doubt about that. But what really gets me in this post are your MOST INCREDIBLE insect shots. You can practically see inside the skin! Bravo!

    1. It helps to have a cooperative subject, Jeanie, and patience plays a role. For every decent photo of these little friends, there were about twenty that ranged from ‘meh’ to ‘trash immediately.’ It does take time to sort through the pile once I get home, but it’s worth it to discover a gem like this at the bottom of the pile.

    1. I’m lucky enough to live close to people who turned a “hobby garden” into a growing commercial venture. During the season, I go there to pick veggies, peaches, and blackberries galore. They trellis their blackberries, so it’s easy picking, and the fruit is delicious. Still, there’s something about berry picking in the fields or byways that’s such fun. And who doesn’t like savoring sun-warmed berries while they pick?

    1. There’s nothing like an entire embankment covered with these flowers. It can look like snow — at least, it can if you apply just a little imagination. The fruit’s well worth the cost, too, although I’ve never found a way to avoid the thorns. Better to just gear up, and have at it. Those vines can be so tough I often wear boots and heavy jeans even in hot, dry weather, just to avoid those painful encounters.

    1. The best part (for me, if not for the insects) was that I was seriously cabin-fevered after days of rain. I decided to go down to the refuge anyway, figuring at least I’d get out of the house and see something. Stumbling on this little scene was a great reminder that there’s always something to see!

    1. The photos are proof that even a rainy day can be a good day for camera-carrying. In fact, I think rainy days are somehow better than just flat gloomy days. Maybe it’s the shine of what light there is on the watery surfaces.

      I never got through all of Shakespeare last year, but I was surprised to find so many references to nature in his work — even to plants and flowers that we know. It’s too bad Robert Burns and his red, red rose always held center stage, nature-wise, when we were in school.

    1. The life of insects is more interesting — and more complicated — than we sometimes realize. I absolutely love finding one on a flower: or two, or three, for that matter!

  13. We have a large-flowered blackberry up this way, I wonder if they are related? We also have an evil plant with enormous, vicious thorns which I can’t identify. Like a raspberry cane on steroids. This post is a wonderful reminder to slow down and really see what all is going on among the petals and pistils.

    1. I’m sure your blackberry and these are related. As far as I know, they’re all part of the same genus — although there can be significant gaps in my knowledge. Is your big, nasty, thorny plant a vine or a shrub? One of our worst is an invasive: the trifoliate orange (Poncirus trifoliata). The blossoms are fragrant, but the fruit’s sour and the thorns are big and obnoxious.

      1. For heaven’s sake, I hadn’t heard of this plant at all! I just looked it up. An orange with thorns…who knew?
        Our vicious plant is both shrub and vine, which is kinda creepy. I haven’t seen fruit on it, which I assume is because the one I noticed was growing in dense shade. It stood over 5′ tall, intimidating to a shorty like me.

        1. One of the most amusing invasive plant stories I’ve heard involves this one. The University of Oklahoma, on one of their campuses, decided to plant trifoliate orange around buildings as a security measure, figuring that all those thorns would be as effective as barbed wire. They may have been, but the botanists weren’t happy with the administrators.

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