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Australian Plants online

Queensland Raspberries

Tony Bean

Raspberries (and blackberries) belong to the vast genus Rubus in the family Rosaceae. Rubus species are found all over the world, but especially in the northern hemisphere.

The centres of diversity for Rubus appear to be Europe, Asia and North America. China for instance, has around 100 species; the tiny country of Bhutan has 41 species; Indonesia has 40 species. In Australia, there are just eight indigenous species and one hybrid of Rubus.

Broadly speaking, raspberries are red fruited and blackberries (naturally enough) have black fruit, and they belong to different subgenera in Rubus. Australia has no indigenous blackberries, but we have inherited quite a few from other countries, notably the common blackberry (R.fruticosus agg.) from Europe which is rampant in many parts of southern Australia. All Rubus spp., as far as I know, have edible fruits, but there is a lot of variation between species in their flavour and succulence.

Queensland is the stronghold for Australian Rubus species. This is probably because Queensland has most of the rainforest, and Rubus characteristically grow in rainforest or on rainforest edges. However, the widespread R.parvifolius grows in eucalypt woodland, well away from the rainforest. Another notable feature of Rubus spp. are their very prickly stems and even leaves. There is again an exception, as R.gunnianus from Tasmania is totally without prickles.

My recent taxonomic studies into Rubus have resulted in the naming of a couple of new taxa, and regrettably, a few name changes. Here is a summary of raspberry species occurring in Queensland:

Rubus probus
Rubus probus.
Photo: Hugh Nicholson
Click for a larger image

1. Rubus probus is a pinnate leaved species, with 5-petalled flowers and bright red fruits which are considerably broader than they are long. It is widespread in Queensland, from Helidon Hills to Cooktown, and also in New Guinea.

It was named in 1923, strangely enough, from Puerto Rico, where it is naturalised. Apparently, seeds were sent to the USA in the early part of this century and then distributed. It obviously thrived in Puerto Rico. R.probus was previously known by the name of R.fraxinifolius, but that species, occurs only in south-east Asia and Indonesia.

A photograph of R.probus appears in the journal Australian Plants, Volume 18, page 76, but labelled as R.rosifolius.

Rubus rosifolius    
Rubus rosifolius
Photo: Australian National
Botanic Gardens

2. Rubus rosifolius is a pinnate leaved species. The red fruits are somewhat conical in shape, longer than they are wide. It is very widespread, extending from China and Taiwan to southem Australia. In Queensland it occurs from the NSW border to as far north as Kroombit Tops.

There are two varieties, which look identical, but differ in the number of petals; var. rosifolius has 5 petals and var. commersonii has 9-13 petals.

It is photographed in Keith Williams' Native Plants of Queensland, Volume 3, p. 274.

3. Rubus queenslandicus is a pinnate leaved species which is closely related to R.rosifolius, but differs by the hairless stems and leaves, the longer stalks on the leaflets, the sparse cover of glands on the leaves and the hairy petals. It has red fruits, rather dry in texture. It is endemic to coastal ranges of north Queensland, especially the Atherton Tableland.

Rubus parvifollus    
Rubus parvifollus
Photo: Australian National
Botanic Gardens

4. Rubus parvifollus - a small species which is often quite prostrate, but can form a shrub to 90 cm high. The leaves are generally trifoliolate, but sometimes have 5 leaflets, and the red fruits while rather small, are very succulent and tasty.

R.parvifolius occurs in Japan, southern China and North Vietnam, and throughout southeastern Australia. In Queensland it is distributed from the NSW border to Eungella National Park, near Mackay.

5. Rubus moorei (silky bramble) - this palmate leaved species (like spokes of a wheel), is a vine which scrambles over rainforest vegetation and can reach tree canopy height. It is dioecious, which means that there are separate male and female plants. The fruits, which are borne in summer, are succulent and black at maturity.

It is relatively restricted in distribution from Lismore to the Conondale Ranges, but it is quite common around O'Reillys guesthouse and adjacent areas of Lamington National Park near the New South Wales/ Queensland border.

R.moorei is photographed in Keith Williams' Native Plants of Queensland, Volume 3, p. 274.

Rubus nebulosus
Rubus nebulosus
Rubus nebulosus
Flowers (top) and Fruit
Photos: Hugh Nicholson
Click for a larger image

6. Rubus nebulosus (green-leaved bramble) - another palmate leaved species. Like R.moorei, it is a dioecious vine which can reach canopy height. The fruits are borne in the summer. It is easily distinguished from R.moorei by the longer virtually glabrous leaflets.

It is widespread in NSW, but in Queensland is confined to the high altitude areas near the border. It is most readily seen at Springbrook, where it often grows adjacent to R.moorei.

As this species was only recently named, it was referred to in the Flora of NSW as Rubus sp.A, and illustrated in Nicholson's Rainforest Plants, Volume 4, page 61, again as Rubus sp.A.

7. Rubus ellipticus - a trifoliolate species with long arching canes bearing red bristles. The fruits are bright yellow, and fairly succulent and tasty. It is an introduced species which comes from India, Sri Lanka, south-east Asia and the Philippines. Seeds were sent to Brisbane (from India) in 1891, and these were distributed to various parts of the state. It first became naturalised at Eumundi, and now is quite common on the Blackall Range. While it is a weed, it never forms large thickets and does not seem too serious.

8. Rubus alceifolius - a vigorous shrubby-vine or sprawling shrub up to 4 metres high, with sirnple 5-7 lobed leaves, with all lobes more or less equal. The fruits are red and succulent. It is a naturalised weed which is a problem at low altitudes in the Wet Tropics of north Queensland. It is indigenous to south-east Asia and the westem parts of Indonesia. It is illustrated in Noxious Weeds of Australia, (1992) p. 576.

9. Rubus moluccanus - a simple leaved species which forms a scrambling shrub to 3 metres high. It is a native species, but its natural range extends far beyond Australia into south east Asia. There are five taxonomic varieties, of which two occur in Queensland:

  • Rubus moluccanus var. trilobus
    Rubus moluccanus var. trilobus.
    Photo: Hugh Nicholson
    Click for a larger image
    R.moluccanus var. moluccanus has a shallowly lobed leaf, white petals and erect brown to yellow hairs on the leaf stalks and branchlets. This variety is common in north Queensland, but does occur sporadically in the south, at low altitudes. It includes R.moluccanus var. dendrocharis, a name which has appeared in some books in recent years.

  • R.moluccanus var. trilobus has a distinctly 3-lobed leaf, mostly pink petals and appressed greyish hairs on the leaf stalks and branchlets. This variety is common in New South Wales and extends into eastern Victoria. In Queensland, it is mainly in the south, but does extend to the Atherton Tableland. It was formerly (incorrectly) known as R hillii.

The fruits of both varieties are red, succulent and tasty.

10. Rubus x novus - this is a naturally occurring hybrid between R.moluccanus var.trilobus and R.parvifolius. The 'x' in front of the species epithet indicates that it is a hybrid. It is usually trifoliolate, with leaflets much larger than R.parvifolius. The flowers are pink. Interestingly, this hybrid is sterile - it never sets fruit. This explains why it is not terribly common. It occurs very sporadically from eastern Victoria to near Sarina in central Queensland, and could be expected to occur wherever the two parents are growing in close proximity.

Why not try growing a Rubus or two? Admittedly, they are not ideal for beside the driveway or where young children play, but they would make a good hedge or fill in a sunny hole in your rainforest planting.

They are readily propagated by cuttings and I have observed layering on two R.moluccanus var.trilobus, where a branch has lain on the ground and struck root. I have not tried raising them from seed, and I suspect they may take a long while to germinate as the seeds are enclosed by a very hard case, as those of you who like blackberry jam will know.

All Rubus are light loving, and will flower and fruit best in full sun. On the down side, they have quite a high water requirement so, unless you live near the coast, they will need supplementary water (except R.parvifolius which is quite drought tolerant); and they don't like poorly drained soil. They do respond well to pruning, so could be made to fit the space you have available, and the big bonus of course is that they will bear edible fruits for you.

From the "Bulletin", newsletter of the Queensland Region of SGAP, March 1999.


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Australian Plants online - June 2001
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants