Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Rubus argutus
(sawtooth blackberry)



Rubus argutus (sawtooth blackberry)


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Rubus argutus (sawtooth blackberry); fruiting habit. Pohakuokala Gulch, Maui. August, 2005.
TitleFruiting habit
CaptionRubus argutus (sawtooth blackberry); fruiting habit. Pohakuokala Gulch, Maui. August, 2005.
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Rubus argutus (sawtooth blackberry); fruiting habit. Pohakuokala Gulch, Maui. August, 2005.
Fruiting habitRubus argutus (sawtooth blackberry); fruiting habit. Pohakuokala Gulch, Maui. August, 2005.©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Rubus argutus (blackberry); leaves and spiny stem. East Maui, Maui. April, 2009.
TitleLeaves and spiny stem
CaptionRubus argutus (blackberry); leaves and spiny stem. East Maui, Maui. April, 2009.
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Rubus argutus (blackberry); leaves and spiny stem. East Maui, Maui. April, 2009.
Leaves and spiny stemRubus argutus (blackberry); leaves and spiny stem. East Maui, Maui. April, 2009.©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Rubus argutus (sawtooth blackberry); flowers. Kahakapao Reservoir LZ Haleakala Ranch, Maui. March, 2009.
CaptionRubus argutus (sawtooth blackberry); flowers. Kahakapao Reservoir LZ Haleakala Ranch, Maui. March, 2009.
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Rubus argutus (sawtooth blackberry); flowers. Kahakapao Reservoir LZ Haleakala Ranch, Maui. March, 2009.
FlowersRubus argutus (sawtooth blackberry); flowers. Kahakapao Reservoir LZ Haleakala Ranch, Maui. March, 2009.©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Rubus argutus (sawtooth blackberry); mature fruit and leaves. Shibuya Farm Kula, Maui. March, 2011.
TitleMature fruit and leaves
CaptionRubus argutus (sawtooth blackberry); mature fruit and leaves. Shibuya Farm Kula, Maui. March, 2011.
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Rubus argutus (sawtooth blackberry); mature fruit and leaves. Shibuya Farm Kula, Maui. March, 2011.
Mature fruit and leavesRubus argutus (sawtooth blackberry); mature fruit and leaves. Shibuya Farm Kula, Maui. March, 2011.©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Rubus argutus Link, 1822

Preferred Common Name

  • sawtooth blackberry

Other Scientific Names

  • Rubus abundiflorus L. H. Bailey
  • Rubus betulifolius Small
  • Rubus floridensis L. H. Bailey
  • Rubus floridus Tratt.
  • Rubus incisifrons L. H. Bailey
  • Rubus louisianus A. Berger
  • Rubus ostryifolius Rydb.
  • Rubus penetrans L. H. Bailey
  • Rubus rhodophyllus Rydb.

International Common Names

  • English: Florida blackberry; highbush blackberry; prickly Florida blackberry

Local Common Names

  • USA: sharp-toothed blackberry; southern blackberry; tall blackberry
  • USA/Hawaii: ‘ohelo ‘ele’ele

Summary of Invasiveness

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R. argutus, commonly known as the sawtooth blackberry, is native to central and eastern USA and has been introduced to the Hawaiian Islands, Chile (Markin et al., 1992), New Zealand (USDA-ARS, 2012) and Japan (Mito and Uesugi, 2004).

It has been declared a noxious terrestrial weed in Hawaii, Smith (1985) listed it among the 12 most significant environmental weeds and Meyer (2000) listed it among the 19 dominant invading plant species. It is capable of spreading both via seed and vegetative growth and competes with native vegetation (Tunison, 1991). It spreads most rapidly with disturbance; seedling emergence is stimulated by soil disturbance and vegetative growth is much more rapid if the canopy is removed. Even when above-ground shoots are killed by cutting or spraying, it may re-sprout from well-developed roots (Smith, 1985). R. argutus may work synergistically with other invasive species such as wild pigs to reduce environmental quality (Stone, 1985), but not in all settings (Aplet et al., 1991). While it is effective in recolonizing areas with a moderate or opened canopy is disrupted, growth of R. argutus is inhibited by deep shade.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Dicotyledonae
  •                     Order: Rosales
  •                         Family: Rosaceae
  •                             Genus: Rubus
  •                                 Species: Rubus argutus

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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A common general name for Rubus spp. is 'brambles'. Rubus is the Latin name for bramble, originally derived from the Latin 'ruber', meaning red (Wagner et al., 1999). The Latin 'argutus' means sharp-toothed, referring to the teeth on the leaf margins.

The genus Rubus is a large genus with at least 250 member species, primarily originating in northern temperate regions as well as the Andes in South America. Many species are classified in the subgenus Rubus, but there is some confusion because many appear to be apomictic segregates of the widely cultivated R. fruticosus L.

Within the diverse genus Rubus, there are 12 subgenera, but most species are within either the raspberry subgenus (Idaeobatus) or blackberry subgenus (Eubatus) (Howarth et al., 1997). Until R. armenicus was recently identified in Hawaii, R. argutus was the only member of the Eubatus subgenus found in Hawaii (Wagner et al., 1999).

R. argutus was incorrectly identified as Rubus penetrans in Hawaii until the mid-1980s (Tunison, 1991). Like R. argutus, R. penetrans is also native to eastern USA, but is thought to be a segregate of R. argutus (Wagner et al., 1999).


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Woody, erect shrub (subshrub) or may be arching or trailing, depending on microenvironment (e.g. more decumbent in shade). The first year stems (primocanes) 1-3 m long. Armed with straight or hooked prickles (6-8 mm) with elongated bases. Palmately compound leaves with 3-5 eliptic, oblongoblanceolate leaflets; terminal leaflet 8-13 cm long and 3.5-5 cm wide with a 2-4 cm petiole, with a pair of deciduous linear stipules at the base. Second year stems (floricanes) typically bear slightly smaller leaves and prickles, and produce flowers. The leaflets are hairless on the upper surface; soft, long hairs adorn lower surface. Midrib may have small prickles. Flowers borne on 1.5-5.0 mm villous pedicels arranged in short racemes with 5-20 flowers bearing 13-20 mm white obovate petals. Aggregate fruit comprised of many drupelets is initially red and becomes black at maturity, 1.5-2 cm long, adhering to the receptacle which is slow to separate. A single yellow seed is borne in each drupelet (Wagner et al., 1999; Johnson and Hoagland, 1999; Hilty, 2012).

Plant Type

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Seed propagated
Vegetatively propagated


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R. argutus is native to central and eastern USA.

Although known to be established on Kauai, Oahu, Maui and Hawaii throughout most of the 20th century, R. argutus was first reported on Molokai in 1992, naturalized and forming scattered patches from Hanalilolilo to Kawela between 700 and 1120 m above sea level (Hughes, 1995).

In New Zealand it occurs in North Auckland, specifically Pipiwai, Whangarei district and Kamo (Webb et al., 1988).

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes


JapanPresentIntroduced Invasive Mito and Uesugi, 2004

North America

USAPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-AlabamaWidespreadNativeUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-ArkansasWidespreadNativeUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-ConnecticutWidespreadNativeUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-DelawareWidespreadNativeUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-HawaiiWidespreadIntroduced1894 Invasive Neal, 1965; Tunison, 1991; Wagner et al., 1999; USDA-NRCS, 2012Kauai, Oahu, Maui, Molokai, and Hawaii (the Big Island)
-IllinoisWidespreadNativeUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-IndianaWidespreadNativeUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-KentuckyWidespreadNativeUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-LouisianaWidespreadNativeUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-MaineWidespreadNativeUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-MarylandWidespreadNativeUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-MassachusettsWidespreadNativeUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-MissouriWidespreadNativeUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-MontanaWidespreadNativeUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-New JerseyWidespreadNativeUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-New YorkPresentNativeUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-North CarolinaWidespreadNativeUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-OhioWidespreadNativeUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-OklahomaWidespreadNativeUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-PennsylvaniaWidespreadNativeUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-Rhode IslandWidespreadNativeUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-South CarolinaWidespreadNativeUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-TennesseeWidespreadNativeUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-TexasWidespreadNativeUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-VirginiaWidespreadNativeUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-West VirginiaWidespreadNativeUSDA-NRCS, 2012

South America


New ZealandPresentIntroduced Invasive Webb et al., 1988; USDA-NRCS, 2012North Island

History of Introduction and Spread

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Native to central and eastern USA, R. argutus was introduced to Hawaii in 1894, likely for use in horticulture (Neal, 1965; Smith, 1985). R. argutus was first recorded naturalized in Hawaii in 1904 (Degener, 1938) and has since spread  throughout the Hawaiian islands. It is most widespread and problematic on Kauai, Oahu, Maui and Hawaii (Tunison, 1991; Wagner et al., 1999). R. argutus was estimated to cover 17,565 ha on Oahu, Kauai, Maui and Hawaii by 1962 (Smith, 1985).

It has also been introduced to New Zealand and Japan.


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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
Hawaii USA 1894 Horticulture (pathway cause) Yes Neal (1965); Smith (1985)
Japan USA ? Horticulture (pathway cause) Yes Mito and Uesugi (2004)
New Zealand USA ? Horticulture (pathway cause) Yes Webb et al. (1988)

Risk of Introduction

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Although apparently only introduced to four major areas outside its home range (Hawaii, Chile, New Zealand and Japan), R. argutus is capable of surviving in many other similar temperate-subtropical regions such as many of the South Pacific Islands. R. argutus is not yet present in Australia, but blackberry (R. anglocandicans) was declared a weed of national significance there in 1999 (Evans and Weber, 2003). A weed risk assessment of R. argutus completed for Hawaii scored a relatively high value of 21.5 (PIER, 2012).


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In Hawaii, R. argutus is naturalized in disturbed habitats within mesic to wet forest and subalpine grasslands, ranging between 200 and 2300 m in elevation (Wagner et al., 1999). In its native range, R. argutus is prevalent in grassland habitats, riparian areas, open forest habitats and forest edges (Hilty, 2012).

Habitat List

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Soil Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Soil Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial – ManagedDisturbed areas Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Disturbed areas Principal habitat Natural
Rail / roadsides Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Rail / roadsides Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-naturalNatural forests Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural forests Principal habitat Natural
Natural grasslands Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural grasslands Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Riverbanks Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Riverbanks Principal habitat Natural
Scrub / shrublands Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Scrub / shrublands Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural

Hosts/Species Affected

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R. argutus competes with pine seedlings or saplings during natural regeneration of pine stands such as loblolly, Pinus taeda and shortleaf Pinus echinata pines in southeastern USA (Cain and Shelton, 2003; Schabenberger and Zedaker, 1999). The plant may also invade areas such as roadsides planted with grasses such as bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum) in the coastal plain region of southern USA (McCarty et al., 1996). When invading natural habitats, it may compete with rare species, as in Hawaii where it threatens the IUCN red-listed Alsinidendron obovatum and Alsinidendron lychnoides (Bruegmann and Caraway, 2003a; 2003b).

Host Plants and Other Plants Affected

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Plant nameFamilyContext
Paspalum notatum (bahiagrass)PoaceaeMain
Pinus echinata (shortleaf pine)PinaceaeMain
Pinus taeda (loblolly pine)PinaceaeMain

Biology and Ecology

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R. argutus is tetraploid (Naess et al., 1998). Chromosome numbers have been reported as either 2n = 14 or 21 (Wagner et al., 1999).

The invasive R.phoenicolasius exhibits less genetic variation than R. argutus in the latter’s native habitat. It is likely that R. argutus exhibits more outcrossing through a higher proportion of sexual reproduction than R. phoenicolasius (Innis et al., 2011).

Reproductive Biology

R. argutus has been reported as self-incompatible (Keep, 1968), and by comparison to R. phoenicolasius was seen to rely more on pollination for fruit maturation (Innis, 2005). R. argutus is regularly visited by pollinators in May-June (Goltz, 1987).

R. argutus propagates by means of seed and by vegetative growth. Spreading clonal growth occurs via root sprouting; aerial shoots also occasionally root when contacting soil (Smith, 1985; Tunison, 1991).

Seeds of R. argutus were not resistant to fire when placed directly on litter prior to burning; however, seeds some seeds retained in fruits during burning were still able to germinate and had germination percentages equivalent to the control seeds (Cain and Shelton, 2003).

In Arkansas, an average of 63 seeds per fruit was calculated by Shelton and Cain (2002). A rough estimate of fruit production was calculated at 50 fruits per square m (PIER, 2012).

R. argutus produces a persistent seed bank; after a third year of storage in soil on a forest floor, 7-19% of R. argutus seeds were still viable (Shelton and Cain, 2002). The germination of R. argutus improves with exposure to sulfuric acid for up to 1 hour, demonstrating the adaptation of the seeds to animal ingestion (Brinkman, 1974).

Physiology and Phenology

In its native range, R. argutus flowers in April-May and its fruits mature in May-June (Johnson and Hoagland, 1999). Normally first year canes (primocanes) do not flower, whereas second year canes flower (floricanes) and subsequently senesce (Tunison, 1991; Hilty, 2012).

R. argutus is more or less deciduous in Hawaii, particularly in more exposed sites, upper elevations or when exposed to low winter temperatures (Tunison, 1991). In New Zealand flowering occurs from February to May and fruiting during May (Webb et al., 1988).

Although aerial portions may be destroyed in fire, R. argutus can regrow from its roots (University of Hawaii Botany Department 2012).

In the Hawaiian environment, R. argutus exhibited a specific leaf area of 187.4 square cm per g, a foliar nitrogen level of 1.76 % and a foliar phosphorus level of 0.08% (Baruch and Goldstein, 1999). The specific leaf area for R. argutus was higher than the average for invasive species than for native Hawaiian plants (167.6 square cm per g) and the foliar nitrogen level higher than the average native value (1.36%), whereas the foliar phosphorus level was the same as for native species (0.08%) (Baruch and Goldstein, 1999). Inositol has been isolated from tissues of R. argutus (Sando, 1926).

It was demonstrated that exposure to high levels of tropospheric ozone reduced the nutritional quality of R. argutus, thus potentially impacting wildlife (Ditchkoff et al., 2009).


The roots are perennial but the canes biennial. Second year canes senesce, but new canes arise from the roots, and thus clonal patches of R. argutus may persist for many years.

Activity patterns

Spread of R. argutus is favoured by disturbance; soil disturbance encourages seedling recruitment whereas canopy opening encourages clonal recruitment (Tunison, 1991). In some areas, R. argutus reproduces only by vegetative means (Harrington et al., 1997).

Population Size and Structure

In its native habitat in eastern USA, R. argutus is an earlier colonizer, forming nascent populations more rapidly than many other woody species (Rossell et al., 2008). It may occasionally reach high populations in its native range, forming dense thickets (White and Judd, 1985). Unlike other invasive plants in Hawaii such as Clidemia hirta or Psidium cattleianum, R. argutus does not always form high densities after colonizing an area, but tends to form widely distributed interspersed patches and only forms monotypic stands under certain conditions (Tunison, 1991). In open areas, stems tend to be more erect or somewhat arching by comparison to shaded areas, where the stems are more trailing or decumbent (Tunison, 1991).


At a phosphorus-limited site in Hawaii, densities of R. argutus increased with the addition of phosphorus or nitrogen and phosphorus (Ostertag and Verville, 2002).


Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi were associated with R. argutus in its native habitat (Innis, 2005).

Environmental Requirements

R. argutus is adapted to a broad range of soil textures (USDA-ARS, 2012). The plant grows best in full or partial sun but under drier conditions can become desiccated (Hilty, 2012). Habitats ranging from wet to mesic are suitable (Smith, 1985), including boggy sites (Tunison, 1991). Its drought tolerance is only moderate and it does not tolerate salinity (USDA-NRCS, 2012). R. argutus exhibits resistance to frost, fire and waterlogging.


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Af - Tropical rainforest climate Tolerated > 60mm precipitation per month
Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year
Df - Continental climate, wet all year Tolerated Continental climate, wet all year (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, wet all year)

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
50 40

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Absolute minimum temperature (ºC) -25 -14
Mean annual temperature (ºC) 5 21
Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC) 12 33
Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC) 0 5


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ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Dry season duration02number of consecutive months with <40 mm rainfall
Mean annual rainfall5001500mm; lower/upper limits

Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • free
  • seasonally waterlogged

Soil reaction

  • acid
  • neutral

Soil texture

  • heavy
  • light
  • medium

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Acleris zimmermani Herbivore Leaves to genus Hawaii
Bembecia chrysisiformis Herbivore Stems to genus Hawaii
Gymnoconia nitens Pathogen Leaves to genus
Kuehneola uredinis Pathogen Leaves to genus
Phragmidium violaceum Pathogen Growing point/Leaves to genus Chile (for other Rubus spp.) Y
Priophorus morio Herbivore Leaves to genus Hawaii
Schreckensteinia festaliella Herbivore Leaves to genus Hawaii

Notes on Natural Enemies

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A number of natural enemies of R. argutus have been evaluated as biological control agents. Five insects, Schreckensteinia festaliella, Croesia zimmermani, Priophorus morio, Bembecia marginata, and Chlamisis gibbosa, were released as biocontrol agents for R. argutus in Hawaii (Nagata and Markin, 1986). Only the lepidopterans S. festaliella and C. zimmermani have successfully established and provided some control, although they also impact native Hawaiian Rubus species (Nagata and Markin, 1986). Three fungal rust pathagens have also been evaluated for biological control: Gymnoconia nitens, Kuehneola uredinis and Phragmidium violaceum. None of these have been recommended for Hawaiian release because of a lack of specificity to R. argutus (Gardner and  Hodges, 1983; Markin et al., 1992; Gardner et al., 1997). It does not seem that P. violaceum attacks R. argutus, although it is utilized in Chile for biological control of other Rubus species (Markin et al., 1992; 1993).

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Natural Dispersal (Non-Biotic)

Although Rubus spp. are adapted to transmission by animal frugivores, some seeds of R. argutus may spread from residual, uneaten fruit.

Vector Transmission (Biotic)

Seeds are spread by birds that consume the berries. In Hawaii, both native and non-native birds are known to spread the seeds; native vectors include the endangered Hawaiian crow or ‘alala (Motooka et al., 2003), but seeds are primarily transported by non-native birds (University of Hawaii Botany Department, 2012). Seeds may also be spread along trails by human walkers or other large animals.

Accidental Introduction

R. argutus may occur as a contaminant when pine seedlings are transplanted in southeastern USA (Shelton and Cain, 2002).

Intentional Introduction

Although R. argutus is not cultivated on a commercial scale at present, it was introduced for horticultural purposes to Hawaii (Neal, 1965; Smith, 1985) and Chile (Medel and Vargas, 1981).

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Digestion and excretionSeeds germinate after passing through digestive systems (e.g., birds) Yes Motooka and, 2003; University of Hawaii Botany Department, 2012
ForestryMay be transported with pine seedlings Yes Shelton and Cain, 2002
HorticultureHistorically transported for horticulture (not currently) Yes Medel and Vargas, 1981; Neal, 1965; Smith, 1985; Webb et al., 1988

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Host and vector organismsVarious bird species, especial non-native birds Yes Motooka and, 2003; University of Hawaii Botany Department, 2012

Vectors and Intermediate Hosts

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Corvus hawaiiensisVery uncommon birdMotooka and, 2003. OtherHawaii

Impact Summary

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Cultural/amenity Positive
Economic/livelihood Positive and negative
Environment (generally) Positive and negative
Human health Positive

Economic Impact

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Large thickets of R. argutus in Hawaii can obstruct trails (Motooka et al., 2003). Even in its native range, growing in North Carolina, it was found to grow too rapidly and be too thorny to be appropriate for trailside plantings (Elerbe Creek Watershed Association, 2012).

In its native range, R. argutus tends to be a weed of various disturbed areas, such as pastures or roadsides (McCarty et al., 1996). It competes with vegetation such as bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum) planted on roadsides in the coastal plain region of southern USA (McCarty et al.,1996).

R. argutus is also said to compete with loblolly, Pinus taeda L., and shortleaf Pinus echinata Mill. pines during the establishment period in natural pine stand regeneration in southeastern USA (Cain and Shelton, 2003; Schabenberger and Zedaker, 1999). R. argutus was among the most common of the competing species on 13 pine plantations in seven US states, including Louisiana to Virginia (Miller et al., 1995).

In North Carolina, Johnson and Sutton (1994) observed the apple pathogen Geastrumia polystigmatis on blackberry stems as well as apple fruit; this was the first report of G. polystigmatis for North America.

Environmental Impact

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In Hawaii, R. argutus is said to be 'an extremely serious weed naturalized in a variety of disturbed habitats'. It is found primarily in mesic to wet forests, but also invading grasslands, at elevations between 200 and 2300 m (Wagner et al., 1999). It forms thick, impenetrable thickets under favorable conditions, shading out native species in dry or mesic forests, and smothering herbaceous plants and shrubs (Smith, 1985; Motooka et al., 2003). Thick, clonal patches exclude most native species in Hawaii, although certain vigorously-growing natives such as pilo (Coprosma spp.) or palapalai (Microlepia strigosa) are more tolerant (Tunison, 1991).

Impact on Habitats

R. argutus threatens some highly valuable habitats in Hawaii with a high proportion of native, endemic plant and animal life, such as the Kamakou Nature Conservancy Preserve on Molakai and the Waikamoi Nature Conservancy Preserve on Maui (Tunison, 1991). The infestation at Waikamoi is far more severe, and considerable effort is required for monitoring and control. Populations are also threatening significant habitats in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Big Island and Mt. Kaala Natural Area Reserve on Oahu, as well as parts of Kauai, such as the Napali Coast region (Tunison,1991; Motooka et al., 2003).

Impact on Biodiversity

As an invasive species that outcompetes many species in its introduced range in Hawaii, Chile and New Zealand, R. argutus threatens native plant diversity. Examples of rare plants R. argutus is specifically impacting include two Hawaiian species of Alsinidendron (Caryophyllaceae), A. obovatum (USFWS, 2002a) and A. lychnoides (USFWS, 2002b), and a member of the sandalwood family (Santalaceae), Exocarpus luteolus (USFWS, 2002b). A. obovatum and A. lychnoides are listed as critically endangered by the IUCN (Breugmann and Caraway, 2003a; 2003b); E. luteolus is on the US endangered species list (USFWS, 1994) and is being evaluated by the IUCN. Each of these three species has extremely limited worldwide populations, with A. obovatum limited to the island of Oahu, and the other two species only found on Kauai. Five populations of A. obovatum were known to occur on Oahu, containing about 8-10 individuals each (Wagner et al., 1999; USFWS, 2002a) but the most recent IUCN listing indicates there is only a single population remaining with 4 individuals (Breugmann and Caraway, 2003b). Four populations of A. lychnoides are known to occur on Kauai with a total population of 50-100 plants (USFWS, 2002b; Breugmann and Caraway, 2003a). There are eight populations of E. luteolus known from a total global population of only 39 individuals. Each of these three species, and other rare species in similar habitats, are vulnerable to competition from R. argutus, along with other threats.

Wood (2011, 2012) and Aguraiuja and Wood (2003) documented some additional extremely rare plant species in habitats impacted by R. argutus, including the ferns Diellia mannii and Ctenitis squamigera recently rediscovered on Kauai; Phyllostegia knudsenii (Lamiaceae) and Melicope macropus (Rutaceae), which are possibly extinct, and the recently rediscovered Melicope degeneri, which is endemic to Kauai.

It is thought that the rust Kuehneola uredinis, now naturalized on Hawaii, was likely introduced with the introduction of R. argutus to Hawaii (Scholler and Aime, 2006). It causes minor infection of endemic R. hawaiensis and R. macraei (Gardner and Hodges, 1989).

Threatened Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Alsinidendron lychnoidesCR (IUCN red list: Critically endangered) CR (IUCN red list: Critically endangered)HawaiiCompetition - monopolizing resources; Competition - shading; Competition - smotheringUSFWS, 2002b
Alsinidendron obovatumCR (IUCN red list: Critically endangered) CR (IUCN red list: Critically endangered)HawaiiCompetition - monopolizing resources; Competition - shading; Competition - smotheringUSFWS, 2002a
Exocarpus luteolusNational list(s) National list(s)HawaiiCompetition - monopolizing resources; Competition - shading; Competition - smotheringUSFWS, 2002b

Social Impact

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In both its native and introduced range, excessive growth can impede hiking trails and other travel corridors (Motooka et al., 2003; Elerbe Creek Watershed Association, 2012).

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Pioneering in disturbed areas
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Fast growing
  • Gregarious
  • Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
  • Reproduces asexually
Impact outcomes
  • Damaged ecosystem services
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Increases vulnerability to invasions
  • Modification of successional patterns
  • Monoculture formation
  • Negatively impacts forestry
  • Reduced amenity values
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of endangered species
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Competition - shading
  • Competition - smothering
  • Pest and disease transmission
  • Hybridization
  • Interaction with other invasive species
  • Rapid growth
  • Produces spines, thorns or burrs
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Difficult/costly to control


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Economic Value

R. argutus was one of the blackberry species used to develop domesticated blackberry strains, beginning in 1820 and progressing through the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Arkansas, including varieties such as ‘Kittatiny’ and ‘El Dorado’ (Stafne, 2003). It was also utilized in the development of ‘Taylor’ in Indiana (Hedrick, 1925). The blackberry breeding program at University of Arkansas continues to make use of R. argutus. Stafne and Clark (2004) demonstrated that R. argutus contributed to 28 of 32 domestic eastern North American blackberry varieties, making an average genetic contribution of 15.5%.

Hybrids derived partially from R. argutus are cultivated in Australia (McGregor, 1998). Other Rubus species utilized to produce these hybrids include R. ursinus, R. ulmifolius [R. inermis], and R. alleghaniensis. The result of these hybridizations is generally a cultivated variety that does not possess weedy traits that would threaten Australian ecosystems (McGregor, 1998). Pure R. argutus strains are not commonly cultivated but fruits can be eaten fresh or utilized for jams, jellies or sauces (Johnson and Hoagland, 1999). R. argutus showed some potential as a hedge species, although it also tends to compete with other hedge species (Lane and Douglas, 1996).

Environmental Services

The fruit is consumed by mammals and birds both in its native and introduced ranges (Tunison, 1991; Parsons and Cuthbertson,1992; Johnson and Hoagland, 1999). Fruits are consumed by both mammals and quite a number of song birds and game birds (Miller and Miller, 1999). In its native Virginia, R. argutus was the most common woody species growing under Juniper virginiana in its native habitat, likely due to dispersal by birds perching in J. virginiana (Joy and Young, 2002). The blossoms are visited regularly by pollinators in its native range (Goltz, 1987), such as halictid bees (Stockhammer, 1967). It is palatable to grazing animals, forming a principle browse for a variety of herbivores in southeastern USA such as white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and eastern cottontails (Sylvilagus floridanus) (Todd, 1927; Ditchkoff et al., 2009). Its thorny thickets may also provide a protective shelter for small vertebrates (Martin et al., 1951; Tunison, 1991). R. argutus forms a significant component of hedgerows in its native range (e.g. North Carolina) where it provides good habitat for songbirds (Marcus et al., 2000). The green lynx spider, Peucetia viridans, makes use of R. argutus leaves to construct a shelter for protecting its young by tying them together with silk (Wiley and Adler, 1989).

Social Benefit

The Cherokee natives east of the Mississippi in North America harvest R. arbutus (White, 1975).

Uses List

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  • Amenity
  • Landscape improvement
  • Wildlife habitat
  • Windbreak


  • Sociocultural value

Human food and beverage

  • Beverage base
  • Fruits

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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Due to frequent hybridization and introgression events, identification of Rubus species can be challenging (Davis, 1990; Johnson and Hoagland, 1999). Thimbleberry (Rubusrosifolius Sm.) is also naturalized on Hawaii and bears white flowers like R. argutus; however, the mature fruits are red. The fruit of the endemic Rubusmacraei A. Gray may be dark purple but range from dark red to dark purple and its leaves are larger and broadly ovate in comparison to those of R. argutus. The Himalayan blackberry, R. armeniacus [R. discolor] has recently invaded  Hawaii; it also bears white flowers and black fruit, although the flowers may also be pinkish. The leaves of R. armeniacus are light greenish/gray below and somewhat less toothed, larger and more oval than those of R. argutus; new growth in R. armeniacus tends to bear leaves with five leaflets (older canes having three) and it tends to form, thick, shrubby patches (Boersma et al., 2006). R. argutus is closely related to R. ostryifolius (Johnson and Hoagland, 1999), although R. ostryifolius is also considered a synonym (Hilty, 2012). Both R. argutus and R. allegheniensis have racemes with relatively small bracts, but the racemes of R. allegheniensis have stalks with sticky-glandular hairs whereas those of R. argutus have woolly non-glandular hairs (Hilty, 2012).

In comparing the ecology of R. argutus in its native range with the invasive R. phoenicolasius, Innis (2005) determined that R. phoenicolasius populations persisted better under drought conditions and competed more vigorously with other plant species.

Prevention and Control

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In Australia, the risk of invasion by R. argutus has been evaluated and the species is included in efforts to prevent new invasive plants from entering the country and becoming established (DPI, Victoria, 2011).

Prevention of re-establishment of R. argutus is important in large-scale restoration projects, such as a restoration effort in Hawaii Volcanoes Park where thousands of invasive plants were removed (Loh et al., 2007).

Cultural Control and Sanitary Measures

In many areas where R. argutus is invasive in Hawaii nutrients are limited. Increasing nutrient levels increase the abundance of R. argutus and at the same time decrease populations of native species such as Metrosideros polymorpha that are adapted to lower nutrient levels (Ostertag and Verville, 2002).

Physical/Mechanical Control

It is possible to reduce vegetative growth in R. argutus by various physical means of control such as mowing, roller chopping or fire, but other weed growth may be stimulated by these actions (Mislevy et al., 1987). Populations of the closely related thornless blackberry, R. canadensis (Davis, 1990), may increase with burning, mowing or deep cultivation (Coladonato, 1994).

Biological Control

There has been a priority placed on developing biological control methods for R. argutus in Hawaii because large-scale applications of herbicides or manual control in the environments where R. argutus is found is impractical (Gardner et al., 1997).

Five insects were released to target R. argutus for biological control between 1963 and 1969, three of which became established by the mid-1960s and continued to impact R. argutus populations subsequently (Nagata and Markin, 1986). The two most successful insect agents were Schreckensteinia festaliella, a leaf skelentonizer, and Croesia zimmermani, a leaf roller (Nagata and Markin, 1986). The third biocontrol insect persisting in Hawaii is the defolilating sawfly Priophorus morio, but its incidence is much lower than that of the other two introduced insects that are still prevalent (Nagata and Markin, 1986). The chrysomelid beetle Chlamisus gibbosa was also introduced to Hawaii in 1969 as a biological control agent for R. argutus (Davis, 1970).

When these insects were released in the 1960s, impacts on native Hawaiian Rubus species were not considered, but these insects do have negative impacts on native Rubus species (Tunison, 1991). The emphasis has since shifted to finding fungal agents rather than additional insects that might interfere with the three insects already present in Hawaii (Markin et al., 1992). Monitoring and research on these insect agents continues. C. zimmermani and S. festaliella were found to be incapable of acting as hosts to parasitoids introduced to Hawaii for controlling other pests (Henneman and Memmott, 2001). Pheromone-based monitoring methods for C. zimmermani and S. festaliella have been developed (Suckling et al., 2006).

In Chile, a European rust fungus (Phragmidium violaceum) was tested against R. argutus after being utilized successfully against other Rubus species in Australia (Oehrens and Gonzales, 1974; Bruzzese and Field, 1984; Markin et al.,1992). Although it was introduced to Chile to control Rubus species, it apparently does not attack R. argutus (Markin et al., 1992; 1993).

The rust fungus Gymnoconia nitens attacks R. argutus throughout its native range (Gardner et al., 1997). Gardner et al. (1997) tested G. nitens on a variety of Rubus species, either native or introduced to Hawaii, for possible utilization as a biological control agent in Hawaii. Although G. nitens showed some promise for controlling invasive Rubus species, including R. argutus, because it also caused disease on native the Rubus species R. hawaiensis and R. macraei, its use for biological control on islands where these species occur was not advised (Gardner et al., 1997). Similarly, the leaf rust Kuehneola uredinis, although effective as a potential agent against R. Argutus, had some impact (although less severe) on both native Hawaiian species (Gardner and Hodges, 1983).

Chemical Control

Cut stem application of glyphosate can be effective for small, scattered populations of R. argutus, with stems cut as close to the soil as possible (Smith, 1985; Tunison, 1991). The cut-stem method can be quite labour-intensive when high populations of R. argutus are present (Tunison 1991). Glyphosate or metsulfuron may also be used as a foliar application, but care must be taken to avoid damage to non-target plants (Tunison, 1991). Both triclopyr and picloram had high efficacy against R. argutus whereas dicamba did not (Motooka, 1986; Motooka et al., 2003). For clearing trails of R. argutus in Kauai, drizzle applications of triclopyr and glyphosate have proven effective (Motooka et al., 2003). Various formulations of triclopyr utilizing surfactants have been also tested in Hawaii (Motooka et al. 2003).

In a 3-year investigation of R. argutus control in bahiagrass in Florida, McCarty et al. (1996) found triclopyr was most effective. Combining triclopyr with 2,4-D, dicamba, hexazinone or sulfometuron added some measure of control, but also increased damage to bahiagrass. Fluroxypr provided 60-80% control of R. argutus. Although glyphosate and glufosinate also provided some control of R. argutus, the damage to bahiagrass turf was unacceptable and glyphosate is not always effective during the growing season (Yonce and Skroch, 1989; McCarty et al., 1996). Santos et al. (1992) specified that although glyphosate may not be 100% effective, a measure of control is useful in some situations. McCarty et al. (1996) found that emergence of blackberry seedlings was not controlled by application of oxidiazon.


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Links to Websites

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Bugwood Wiki - Rubus argutus
GISD/IASPMR: Invasive Alien Species Pathway Management Resource and DAISIE European Invasive Alien Species Gateway source for updated system data added to species habitat list.


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10/10/12 Original text by:

David R. Clements, Consultant, Canada

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