Common Dewberry
Rubus flagellaris
Rose family (Rosaceae)

Description: This native woody vine produces stems up to 15' long that trail along the ground; some of the flowering stems are more erect and up to 4' tall. Old stems are brown and woody with scattered hooked prickles. Young stems are green with scattered hooked prickles; they are also more or less hairy. Alternate compound leaves occur at intervals along the stems. They are usually trifoliate with 3 leaflets; less often, compound leaves with 5 leaflets occur. These leaflets are up to 3" long and 1" across; they are ovate, doubly serrate along the margins, and mostly hairless. The underside of each leaflet is pale green, rather than white or velvety. Most leaflets have wedge-shaped bottoms and tips that taper gradually. The terminal leaflet has a short petiole (petiolule), while the lateral leaflets are sessile. Each compound leaf is connected to the stem by a long petiole. At the base of this petiole, there is a pair of small linear stipules.


Young stems often terminate in a corymb of 1-5 flowers. Each flower is about 1-1" across when fully open; it consists of 5 white petals, 5 lanceolate green sepals, and numerous stamens that surround a green cluster of carpels. The petals are longer than the sepals and they often have a somewhat wrinkled appearance. The blooming period occurs from mid-spring to early summer and lasts about 1-2 months. The flowers open up during the day and close at night. Each fertilized flower is replaced by a compound drupe up to 1" long that is longer than it is broad. A fully ripened drupe becomes purple-black or black and it has a tart-sweet flavor. This drupe does not detach from its receptacle easily. The root system consists of a woody taproot. This woody vine spreads by reseeding itself; sometimes, the tips of young stems will root in the ground, forming vegetative offsets.

Cultivation: This plant typically grows in full to partial sun and mesic to dry conditions. It tolerates different kinds of soil, including those containing loam, clay-loam, sand, or rocky material.

Range & Habitat: Common Dewberry is common in the southern half of Illinois; it is less common or absent in the northern half of the state, particularly in the NW area (see Distribution Map). Habitats include mesic to dry savannas and sandy savannas, woodland borders, meadows in wooded areas, and abandoned fields. Common Dewberry is found in both sandy and non-sandy habitats. Occasional wildfires that remove tall woody vegetation tend to increase the population of Common Dewberry.

Faunal Associations: The flowers attract both long-tongued and short-tongued bees, including honeybees, bumblebees, Mason bees, Leaf-Cutting bees, Cuckoo bees (Nomadine), and Miner bees (Eucerine). These insects suck nectar or collect pollen. The flowers also attract butterflies, skippers, and various flies. Insects that feed on various parts of Common Dewberry and other Rubus spp. include Siphonophora rubi (Blackberry Aphid; sucks juices), Edwardsiana rosae (Rose Leafhopper; sucks juices), Metallus rubi (Blackberry Leafminer; sawfly maggot tunnels through leaves), Agrilus ruficollis (Red-Necked Cane Borer; beetle grub bores through stems), and the caterpillars of many moths. The drupes of Common Dewberry and other Rubus spp. are an important source of summer food to many upland gamebirds and songbirds (see Bird Table). The Raccoon, Fox Squirrel, Eastern Chipmunk, White-Footed Mouse, and other mammals also eat the fruits, while the Cottontail Rabbit and White-Tailed Deer browse on the leaves and stems.

Photographic Location: A meadow in a wooded area at Orchid Hill in Vermilion County, Illinois; a sandy meadow at Irwin Prairie State Nature Preserve in Lucas County, Ohio; and the Indiana Dunes State Park in NW Indiana.

Comments: The compound drupes (fruits) of Common Dewberry are edible to humans; when they are fully ripened, their flavor is pleasant. Common Dewberry can be distinguished from most Rubus spp. (Blackberries) by its vine-like habit. There are other Rubus spp. that are woody vines in various areas of the state, but they are less common. One of them, Rubus trivialis (Southern Dewberry) is restricted to southern Illinois. Its appearance and growth habit is similar to Common Dewberry, but the young stems of Southern Dewberry usually have sharp bristles and prickles. The young stems of Common Dewberry have soft hairs and prickles, but not sharp bristles. The leaves of Southern Dewberry are evergreen, while those of Common Dewberry are deciduous. The appearance of Common Dewberry is somewhat variable across its broad range, although different varieties have not been described for Illinois.

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