Could blackberry jam have become NZ’s biggest export?

No, not really – but this is what one Manawatu farmer suggested might happen if the plant was allowed to spread any further through the district and the country.

So serious was the issue by the 1920s, that noxious weeds (including gorse and blackberry) were a hot topic at a Farmers Union Conference in Feilding in 1928.  As one concerned delegate somewhat facetiously put it: “Unless the blackberry pest is taken in hand seriously by the Government the main exports from New Zealand in years to come will be blackberry jam and farmers”.

The delegates to the conference urged that, where appropriate, the government appoint rabbit board inspectors as inspectors under the Noxious Weeds Act (enacted in 1900) and to subsidise rabbit boards for services rendered. This proposal appears to reflect the fact that farmers had more confidence in the capacity of rabbit boards to deal with such issues than they did in county councils.

Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus) was first brought to New Zealand as plant useful both for hedging and for its berries [See also: When is a fence not a fence?] However, the plant soon spread, facilitated by willing avian helpers who dispersed the seeds. The blackberry problem was particularly acute on the west coast of the South Island; the popular line was that there was only one blackberry bush there – but that it was 100 miles long.
In 1925 the New Zealand government offered a £10,000 reward (about $800,000 in 2006) to anyone who could devise a method to eradicate blackberry. Goats were sometimes used to trample it down – mostly without success. It was only when hormone sprays were invented in the 1940s that farmers could control blackberry. It still remains a serious pest in scrubland and forest reserves in Northland, Nelson, the West Coast and elsewhere.

Photo: A family having lunch by the roadside while out picking blackberries in Northland. A young boy is standing beside the car drinking from a bottle. Photographed by Robert E Wells in March or April 1947. Not to be reproduced without permission from Alexander Turnbull Library, ref. ID: 1/4-091186-F

Sources: Evening Post, 1 June 1928; Bob Brockie. ‘Weeds of the bush – Vines and scramblers’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand; “Only one blackberry bush”, NZ Truth, 14 June 1924.

One thought on “Could blackberry jam have become NZ’s biggest export?

  1. I seriously hate this plant, trying to clear some by hand recently and it grabs onto you at any opportunity because its so flexible. Even the dead stems keep those vicious barbs on them. Give me gorse anyday!

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