Blackberry roots and poisonous fruits!

Text and photos by SOLVE Jesuit Volunteer Northwest Member Lauren McKenna

Rachel Carson EMS@ Willow Creek 11/28/2012

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These are just some words describing a SOLVE day with Rachel Carson Environmental Middle School.  For these students, “fun” is getting out in cold rainy weather, donned in rain gear from head to foot, knee deep in mud, to chop down and dig up invasive blackberries.

While this may sound like a lot of work (and it is), it is also an opportunity for the students to, literally, get their hands dirty learning about the importance of restoring our waterways.  By the end of the day, the pile of invasive Armenian blackberry canes and roots had grown and everyone seemed satisfied to be helping Willow Creek so much.

 They also got to learn about the native trees and shrubs that will be planted at Willow Creek, and how to identify them when they *gasp!* lose their leaves and are really hard to tell apart from each other.  One favorite plant was the Snowberry (genus Symphoricarpos).  Of course, it’s white berries are hard to miss, often because they are not very tasty; small mammals may eat them, but they are considered poisonous to people. Students kept asking:

“Are the berries poisonous?  Are these poisonous?  What about these?!”


Eating snowberries can induce vomiting.  One or two of the berries were eaten by the Stl’atl’imx to settle the stomach after too much fatty food (Pojar & MacKinnon 1994).  But for now let’s avoid them unless you want a real tummy-ache!  Snowberries are also just great shrubby, mildly drought-resistant native plants that provide habitat and food for wildlife.  We also looked at some Red Eelderberry (Sambucus racemosa), whose berries are also toxic, unless you prepare them into jam or wine!

Thank you again, Rachel Carson!

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