Researchers at the University of Arkansas, which probably has the best blackberry breeding program in the world, are working on new varieties of blackberries that are thornless, higher in quality and produce larger berries than current varieties.
John Clark, an associate professor of horticulture at the UA, says the new varieties will be available to the public in two to five years. The new varieties will also ripen over a variety of seasons, so blackberries can be ready to pick right after strawberries in late May instead of a month or so later.
The UA produced eight varieties of blackberries between 1974 and 1996, with each being an improvement over the previous variety. They include: Comanche, Cherokee, Cheyene, Shawnee, Choctaw, Navaho, Arapaho and Kiowa. Navaho and Arapaho are both thornless varieties. Kiowa produces the largest fruit at an average size of 10 to 12 grams per berry.
Shawnee is the most widely planted blackberry in the eastern United States, says Clark.
Clark says James Moore, a distinguished professor of horticulture who started the fruit breeding program at the UA, decided blackberries had good potential because they were indigenous to Northwest Arkansas and throughout the South.
Since blackberries grew wild here, they generally require little pesticide because of evolutionary tolerance. The new varieties being developed are also pest resistant because their lineage can be traced back to the wild berries of this region. Peaches, on the other hand, originated in China, so peach trees in the U.S. require frequent spraying for pests. Blueberries also don’t require much pesticide because they, too, were indigenous to Arkansas.