Native Raspberries (Part 6)

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© JPM, 2022.

Red packets of acidic goodness, it may surprise many Australian residents that our country is home to seven, yes, seven, native species of raspberries!

Names

A raspberry is a raspberry, right? Well, technically all raspberries come under the botanical family moniker of Rubus and they are found as natives worldwide. The seven Australian varieties are as follows: R. fraxinifolius ("Atherton raspberry"), R. rosifolius ("rose-leaf raspberry"), R. moorei & R. novae-cambriae ("bush lawyers"), R. moluccanus ("Molucca bramble"), R. parvifolius ("pink-flowered raspberry") and R. gunnianus ("alpine raspberry"). In some places they have the generic name "bramble" because of their thorny stems and generally annoying tendency, like their invasive European cousin the blackberry, to take over an area if left unchecked.

Habitat and Range

The seven native species are found, once again, along the length of the east coast in territory as far inland as the western edge of the Great Dividing Range. They prefer to occupy creek banks, escarpments, rocky terrain, roadsides, even venturing as far east as karkalla territory in the sand behind coastal dunes. To the great consternation of Australian Parks and Wildlife rangers everywhere, they also proliferate in the underbrush in national parks and state forests. Ranges of the specific varieties are as follows, remembering that these plants can be found 100 to 300km inland from the coastal markers given:

R. fraxinifolius - Found in Queensland only, from Cairns to Brisbane, but especially the Atherton tablelands.
R. rosifolius - From Bundaberg in Queensland as far south as Eden on the NSW-VIC border, as well as a few far-northern pockets around the Tropic of Capricorn.
R. moorei & R. novae-cambriae - From Brisbane to Wollongong.
R. moluccanus - From Cairns to Airlie Beach; and then absent until Rockhampton, then to Mallacoota on the NSW-VIC border.
R. parvifolius - By far the most abundant of the native raspberries, found in the eastern and southern ranges from Rockhampton to Adelaide, and including throughout Tasmania.
R. gunnianus - This tiny alpine raspberry is found in high-altitude areas of Tasmania only.

Figure 1. Distribution of Rubus, including native raspberries (all species), across the continent. Note that this map includes commercial European raspberries cultivated in the WA and SA fruit bowl regions; native raspberries are exclusive to the East Coast only. Atlas of Living Australia.
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Identification

Key Identifying Features
  • A scrambling bramble with tough, woody and thorny stems
  • Leaves are splays of three to seven leafettes, often similar to rose or blackberry, depending on the species
  • Flowers are pink or white, five-petaled, with five lobed green or brown calyx at the stem, with dozens of tiny anthers ringing a central clump of dozens of pistils
  • Fruit ripen into red raspberries similar to commercial varieties, including the well-known 'torus' shape
  • Fruits are tart and juicy, with each segment containing a hard, white seed.
Besides the obvious red fruit, anyone familiar with blackberry or roses will have little difficulty identifying native raspberries. Leaves tend to be organised in splays of 3 to 5 leafettes, very similar to roses. Leaves can be quite small, 3-6 cm long as with the pink-flowered and most abundant R. parvifolius, or larger, broad leaves of 5-20cm, for the Molucca bramble. Unlike blackberry, which usually has red, thorny branches, native raspberries will be green or whitish with occasional pink blushes on the stems, with thorns varying from minimal to obnoxious.

Figure 2: R. parvifolius, which has the smallest leaves of all the native raspberries. New England National Park, NSW. © JPM, 2022.
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Flowers are usually a 5-leaved white calyx, upon which there will be 5 white petals with multiple anthers and pistils clustered in the centre; the aptly-named pink-flowered raspberry has pinkish-purple petals. After pollination (typically by native or introduced bees), the flowers give way to multiple red, sometimes red-black fruiting segments, each which will contain a single, often hard, seed. Native raspberries are typically small, having 12-25 individual segments, although some varieties, like R. rosifolius, can have larger berries. The Tasmanian alpine raspberry is as tiny as 1-5 segments per berry, making them a high-altitude novelty more than a substantial bush walking snack!

Figure 3: Unopened pink flower of R. parvifolius. Wikimedia Commons.
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Figure 4: Atherton raspberry, R. fraxinifolius - leaves, fruit, flowers. Wikimedia Commons.
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Figure 5: A sorry-looking R. parvifolius berry. Note the thorns on the stem. New England National Park, NSW. © JPM, 2022.
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Figure 6: the teeny-tiny berries and leaves of the Tasmanian alpine raspberry, R. gunnianus. Wikimedia Commons.
Rubus [Tasmanian alpine raspberry].jpeg

Native raspberries tend to fruit in small clusters of 1-5 berries, spaced out along a branch. The Queensland Atherton variety R. fraxinifolius will fruit in impressive clusters similar to the way blackberries do. Identical to their commercial cultivars, ripe berries will pull away from the central core cleanly, leaving the red toroid shape we all know and love.

Uses

Native raspberries may be used in identical fashion to their northern-hemisphere counterparts. They can most certainly be enjoyed fresh off the bramble or added to yoghurt, cereal or salads, but due to their tendency to be insipid, some varieties, especially R. rosifolius and R. moluccanus, are best cooked into jam, pies or coolis as this will greatly improve their flavour. A traditional liquor made of raspberries is also possible (this is very popular in Korea, for example - soak a generous serving of wild raspberries in 1 litre of white alcohol, e.g. soju, sake, vodka or pure moonshine for 1+ years, then enjoy). If you sample a native raspberry and find it to be horribly insipid, remember that its flavour will improve markedly when cooked! So take a bucket home instead!

Herbicide Caution!

Due to general ignorance of the fact that Australia is home to seven native "brambles", overzealous local councils and national park conservation programmes often victimise our native raspberries alongside their invasive, non-native European relative, the blackberry. Whilst the native brambles certainly can become a bother uncontrolled, it does mean that the intrepid forager must take care not to harvest from areas where chemical herbicides are in use. Fortunately, councils and national park management programs will often signpost this danger, warning foragers to refrain from eating berries in the area. As much as I would wish that councils utilised tethered goats for bramble control (goats will demolish raspberry and blackberry bushes in no time, and tethering them to the area will stop them escaping or eating unwanted foliage), somehow I doubt this idea is practical or economically viable in the long-term for the huge swathes of mountainous forest that our Aussie raspberries call home... as much as I'd prefer to see our native raspberries thrive for me to come along and help myself!

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