° empty

Natchez blackberry offers sweet, thorn-less taste

Jay Sowers | The Natchez Democrat — Sandy Decker packs dirt around the base of a young Natchez blackberry plant at Live Oak Nursery & Garden Center in Natchez on Thursday afternoon.
Jay Sowers | The Natchez Democrat — Sandy Decker packs dirt around the base of a young Natchez blackberry plant at Live Oak Nursery & Garden Center in Natchez on Thursday afternoon.

NATCHEZ — This summer, Natchez has a new taste.

It’s sweet, juicy and — if you want to hold off on tasting it for a while — has an excellent shelf life.

Photo submitted by John R. Clark, university professor from the Department of Horticulture at the University of Arkansas, show Natchez blackberries at their prime. Clark and the university have done extensive work to cultivate the fruit.
Photo submitted by John R. Clark, university professor from the Department of Horticulture at the University of Arkansas, show Natchez blackberries at their prime. Clark and the university have done extensive work to cultivate the fruit.

The taste of Natchez debuting this spring and summer is the new Natchez blackberry. It’s now available — in the form of starter plants — at Live Oak Nursery.

Two things stand out about the Natchez blackberry. The first is that unlike the blackberry plants native to the area, it’s thorn-less. The second is that the fruit is larger than the blackberries one would find growing wild locally.

“These berries are tapered, smaller at one end than they are at the stem, and they have very few noticeable seeds,” grower and supplier Bob Wells said.

They’ll also offer fruit earlier than the blackberries one might find growing in the Miss-Lou woods or even in people’s gardens.

“The blackberries and dewberries that are growing locally are typically early blooming plants, and the Natchez blackberry is supposed to be an early bloomer as opposed to the native berries,” Live Oak owner Dick Thompson said.

The Natchez blackberry plant was developed by researchers at the University of Arkansas, and is the 12th in a series of erect-growing blackberry cultivars Arkansas has released.

Wells said the Natchez blackberry is named after the Natchez Indians.

As the developers bred different cultivars, when they found one they wanted to put in the markets, they would name it after a different Indian tribe. Previous blackberry varieties that have hit the market include the Arapho, Ouachita, Apache and Kiowa cultivars.

Prior to having a market name, the blackberries are given research numbers — in the case of the Natchez varietal, it was developed by combining two previously developed numbered plants, Arkansas 2005 and Arkansas 1857, in 1998.

Three years later, the seedling that would eventually become the Natchez blackberry family — then known as Arkansas 2241 — was selected from a University of Arkansas seed field at the state fruit research station in Clarksville, Ark.

The end result was an erect-growing, high-quality, productive plant that produced large fruit averaging 9 grams in size. The plant also shows a strong potential for home garden use.

The process of developing a thorn-less, thick-fruited blackberry was a matter of researchers crossbreeding different blackberry cultivars and then encouraging certain genetic mutations that arose from the process, Thompson said.

“They have hundreds of thousands of plants that come up from seedlings, and they selected this one because it had the characteristics they wanted,” he said.

Now, 12 years after the first plant presented the combined characteristics that would become known as the Natchez blackberry, it has made its way to Natchez.

Live Oak Nursery received a shipment of 100 Natchez blackberries last week, and is selling them as potted starter plants.

Thompson said because the plants are already established, gardeners can expect to see some berries from the bushes this year.

“They probably will bear fruit the first year because they are already a year old,” Thompson said.