Below, this plump, red raspberry off of Beaver Loop Road in Kenai looked nearly ripe Thursday, but several other berries on the same bush still have a while to go before they're ready for picking.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
While summer still has a few weeks left, fall colors are already starting to show, the first of which are the ripening fruits of the various species of raspberry plants found around the Kenai Peninsula.
"When the berries are calling, you've got to go find them, and now is a really good time for picking members of the rose family," said Janice Chumley, integrated pest management technician at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service office in Soldotna.
Chumley was specifically referring to the family Rosaceae, to which raspberries, as well as numerous other flowering plants, belong under the genus Rubus.
In regard to raspberries, while there are slight variations to the size, shape and taste of the fruits which are technically not a berry, but an aggregate of druplets Chumley said "all are worth pursuing when it comes to picking."
The most widely known and frequently picked species of the wild raspberries is the popular red raspberry, according to Chumley.
"These are easily indentifiable because they grow upright on canes," she said.
These canes can be quite tall, some as high as 4 feet, although 2-foot-tall canes are more the norm.
Chumley said these canes frequently are found growing in coastal areas. They also can be found not far from rivers, and there are numerous raspberry patches along the Kenai River, particular in the Beaver Loop area. Some lakes, such as Johnson Lake in Kasilof, also have thick stands of raspberry canes.
"Red raspberries can also be found in meadows and open areas, and along the edges of woods," she added.
While the red raspberry may be one of the best known raspberries, the trailing raspberry is just the opposite. Also occasionally known as the five-leaved bramble, the trailing raspberry is not well known and is one of the smallest of the raspberries in terms of both plant size and fruit.
"It's a small, low growing plant with only two to three druplets that make up the berry, so you really have to pay attention when searching for these," Chumley said.
Small is almost an understatement when describing trailing raspberry plants since they typically are only about an inch high, but what they lack in size, they make up for in flavor.
"They're very tasty," Chumley said.
Some sources go a step further in describing their palatability. According to the book "Wild Edible and Poisonous Plants of Alaska," the trailing raspberry fruit is "juicy and delicious," while "Alaska Wild Berries and Berry-Like Fruit," describes the flavor as "excellent."
Chumley said the main drawback is that because the plants are so small and the fruits so few, it is rare to pick the quantity of fruit common with some other berry species.
"You rarely get enough to make jams and jellies," she said.
Those wishing to tail the trailing raspberry should check moist, mossy woods where they sometimes grow over logs.
The tiny fruits of a trailing raspberry plant, above, reach the peak of ripeness earlier this week in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. With a plant size of only an inch tall, the trailing raspberry is one of the smallest of the raspberry plants.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
"A lot of times you find them in the under-stories of damp forested floors," Chumley said.
While on hands and knees searching for trailing raspberries, pickers may want to keep an eye peeled for another raspberry species that grows in similar habitats.
"Nagoonberries often grow in same areas, low to the ground," Chumley said.
Also called wineberries, nagoonberries look like somewhat of a cross between the red and trailing raspberries. The fruit is large and has many lobes like its cane-growing cousin, but nagoonberries grow on plants that rarely exceed 5 inches in height.
The fruit of nagoonberries is typically darker colored than either of the two other berries, but still has a superior tasting fruit. Unfortunately, they are rarely found in large quantities, according to Chumley.
"When you find them you feel like you really accomplished something," she said.
To bounce to the other end of the size spectrum, the salmonberry is by far the tallest growing plants with the largest fruit of any of the peninsula wild raspberries. Salmonberry canes of more than 7 feet tall are not uncommon.
The fruit looks similar to a red raspberry, but is larger and typically more oval in appearance yet no less juicy.
"Another tasty fruit," Chumley said.
This makes them a tempting treat for mountain hikers since they often grow in dense thickets on hillsides and alpine slopes, particularly where avalanches have occurred during the winter.
On the Lost Lake Trail just north of Seward, salmonberries are prolific at the end of August and into the start of September.
A close cousin of the salmonberry is the cloudberry, which itself is sometimes called a low-bush salmonberry when the two overlap in range.
"They're similar. Their berries are both large, but the cloudberry (plant) has only one berry," Chumley said.
The cloudberry only gets one fruit because the plant stands only 5 to 8 inches tall, so it is a fraction of the size of the salmonberry. The fruit is also a different color than most of the other raspberries. It is frequently more orange or peach-colored than it is red.
Cloudberries typically grow in moist areas such as bogs and wet acidic woodlands.
"You also find them in coastal wetlands, more than other areas of the central peninsula," Chumley said.
Would-be pickers should be aware that time is of the essence in regard to raspberries. Since most fruits hit their peak of ripeness at the end of August and beginning of September, those who wait too long may find they missed out on the "berry" best time to go. For these unfortunate few, there are many other berries to choose from, though.
"Later there will be plenty of lingonberries, high-bush cranberries and others," Chumley said.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at email@example.com.
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