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Rubus occidentalis (Black Raspberry) Rosaceae

Rubus occidentalis, the black raspberry, is found all over the eastern United States. Its delicious fruit is commonly used for making jam and pie, as well as providing cover and food for many species of animals. It is well worth risking getting stuck and scratched by its prickles to pick enough for a treat for anyone lucky enough to find a thicket of Rubus occidentalis.

Photo by Robert Klips

Physical characteristics

Leaf:  Palmately compound leaves of three to five leaflets are arranged alternately on the stem. The leaflets are toothed  and are between three to five inches long in length. 

Flower | Seeds: The white flowers of the black raspberry have five petals and five sepals, many stamens and many pistils. Each pollinates pistil turns into a fruitlet on the receptacle. This type of fruit is called an aggregate fruit. When a black raspberry is picked, the receptacle stays on the plant and the fruit is hollow, like a thimble. 


Photo by Robert Klips

Stem: The stems are round and have prickles, which are thorn-like structures that originate from the epidermis of the stem. There is usually a white, powdery substance called a bloom on the stem. The stems, or canes, are generally arching or rambling. 

Life span: While the roots of Rubus occidentalis are perennial the shoots are biennial. The first year the shoot grows and the following year the shoot will produce flowers and fruit.  The plant reproduces sexually, its seeds being dispersed by animals that have eaten the fruits. The branches can take root as well producing new plants.

Ecological characteristics

Rubus occidentalis  can be found in forests, forest edges, meadows, fields, and disturbed habitats throughout Illinois as can be seen in the map below. It is native to the eastern United States and is present as indicated in the US map below. Please note that distribution maps by state that show the distribution by county can be seen by clicking on the state on the USDA website link below the US map. 




Importance to the ecosystem

The black raspberry helps with soil erosion and provides cover for many animal species. It also attracts native bees and provides nesting materials for native bees. 

Relationship with other species

Non-human: The black raspberry fruit and other parts of the plant is consumed and enjoyed by many mammals such as black bears, rodents, and birds. It has been recorded  being eaten by 150 bird and mammal species. 

Photo by Jim Stroner

Humans: The black raspberry is a tasty treat for humans and used for jams, pies, cakes, and many other foods. The fruit can also be used to make dyes. The leaves and roots are said to have medicinal purposes and were used by many groups of Native Americans for various ailments.

Pests: Common pests of Rubus occidentalis are various fungi and various insects that feed on the leaves and sap.

Other interesting facts

  • The black raspberry is a very nutritional fruit. It is high in vitamin C and antioxidants (click here for more info) and some studies are suggesting that black raspberries help inhibit growth of various kinds of cancer (click here for more info)!


 References (n.d.). Rubus occidentalis (black raspberry): Go Botany. [online] Retrieved from: [Accessed: 25 Jul 2013]. (n.d.). Black Raspberry (Rubus occidentalis). [online] Retrieved from: [Accessed: 25 Jul 2013].

Newcomb, L. (1977). Newcomb’s Wildflower guide. Boston: Little, Brown.

Petrides, G. (1972). A field guide to trees and shrubs. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. (2012). Rubus occidentalis (Black raspberry) | NPIN. [online] Retrieved from: [Accessed: 25 Jul 2013].

Page drafted by Lalainya Goldsberry 

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How can you tell if it’s a black raspberry or a blackberry?

  • The stem of the black raspberry is round while the blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis) has square stems.
  • The fruit of the black raspberry when picked is hollow leaving the receptacle behind. The blackberry when picked the fruit is not hollow, the receptacle remaining inside the fruit.
  • Blackberries tend to ripen a little later than black raspberries.


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