Rubus phoenicolasius Maxim. new to the Niagara Frontier Flora

Patricia M. Eckel

Clintonia, newsletter of the Niagara Frontier Botanical Society 23(4): 1--2.  2008.

Res Botanica, a Missouri Botanical Garden Web Site

December 10, 2008


Rubus phoenicolasius Maxim. new to the Niagara Frontier Flora


P. M. Eckel, Research Associate, Buffalo Museum of Science; Research Scientist, Missouri Botanical Garden, Saint Louis, MO 63166: e-mail:


Perhaps from time to time we should consider the benefits to mankind from the family to which the Rose belongs, the Rosaceae. In most large families of plants, perhaps several to many genera or species may provide basic food, spices, medicinal or other beneficial crops.  But one might be hard put to top the Rosaceae for sheer beauty, fragrance and sweetness throughout the range of plants ascribed to it. Romantics of all centuries are quick to point to the spines, prickles or thorns characteristic of many rosaceous trees and shrubs in sharp contrast to the gracious and alluring quality of the flowers and fruits surrounded by these defenses.


Many local species in this family also produce their fruits during the period of summer dearth, from early summer to just before the produce of the fall harvest is gathered - especially the berries of that time and on to bigger things - "peaches in the summertime, apples in the fall, if I can't have the one I love, I'll have no one at all."


So it is that we have a new Blackberry species to add to the Rosaceous flora of western New York, bearing the rather cumbersome name of Rubus phoenicolasius Maxim., the Wineberry, an east-Asian plant introduced to the North American flora where it escapes into the "wild," as they say, or perhaps "waste" is more apt. The epithet is Greek, phoenic- referring to the purple-red (wine)color and -lasius to the hairy or shaggy state of the stems and flower parts. In 1950, M. L. Fernald in Asa Gray's Manual indicated its range to be "Mass. to Ind., s. to Va. and Ky.," but clearly since then its range has expanded. The USDA posts a map showing the species has grown outward from the area noted by Fernald into adjacent states, keeping to the east of the Mississippi River. Their New York State map shows its absence from western New York, but established in the counties around New York City and some counties in central New York.


Unfortunately, the Wisconsin  Dept. of Natural Resources reports this shrub as a serious pest in eastern and mid-western states, with disbursal by seed-eating birds as well as from the rooting tips of the plant itself. It can form, as do many of its sibling species, dense, impenetrable thickets that briars are well known for. In Tasmania and Australia it is considered noxious. And, as usual in our dysfunctional environmental mentality, there are nursery websites that sell this shrub, happy that the fruits, said to have "excellent flavor and color,"  which is debatable except perhaps in hybrids, grow in moist shade. K.E. Hummer, in a website posting of 12/95, indicated it "was introduced to England in about 1876 and to the United States in 1890 by John Lewis Childs."


Briary edges of forests and meadows, in marginal strips "in between" the tall trees and the short herbs and grasses are where Rubus thrives - it is the bane of fugitives in novels running from open areas into shadowy woods, the thorns forming a barrier between the sun of exposure and the shade of safety. Birds and similar wildlife nest and feed in these thickets, using the thorns to protect themselves as they hide from predators.  And, of course, we know that Brer Rabbit was born in a briar patch.


Well, as soon as reported, we must extirpate this shrub, according to the Plant Conservation Alliance and many other groups, especially in the late winter, early spring when the soil is soft as butter - the best thing to pry it up by the root with a pitchfork or we may well find this shrub all up and down the margins of the Niagara River, and every other stream in our region.   


It was found in New York, Niagara Co., City of Niagara Falls (LaSalle) in the shrubby riverside of Jayne Park, on September 18, 2001, on Cayuga Island, bordered on the north by the Little Niagara River in which Cayuga Creek ends (note that there is another Cayuga Creek in Erie County, south of Buffalo, that flows, together with Cazenovia Creek, into the Buffalo River).


See also P. M. Eckel, 1991. Flora of a marsh on Cayuga Island, Niagara County, New York. Clintonia 6(4): 7-10. Also: 


Fernald, M. L. 1950. Gray's Manual of Botany. Ed. 8. American Book Company, New York.


Originally published as:

Eckel, P. M. 2008. Rubus phoenicolasius Maxim. new to the Niagara Frontier Flora. Clintonia, newsletter of the Niagara Frontier Botanical Society 23(4): 1--2.