Creeping raspberry is a heat tolerant edible ground cover
I expect to see a lot more of this in the future, but before you get your hopes up it’s not really grown for its fruit. Creeping raspberry (Rubus calcynoides) is sun loving but a shade tolerant low growing ornamental vine. Sometimes you will see creeping raspberry ecotypes called Rubus pentalobus, Rubus rolfei, and Rubus hayata-koidzumii. Many varieties do produce edible fruit, but harvesting very much might injure the plants since stems are tender and you can’t avoid stepping on them.
Leaves are crinkly, evergreen and generally five-lobed. Stems have soft prickles and run horizontally like those of strawberries. Growth is very dense so it forms a great ground cover. It’s especially effective for controlling erosion on steep banks but don’t stop there.
White flowers give way to fruits that vary from yellow to orange to red. Yellow is most common. They are edible and quite good, but plants don’t fruit heavily. Don’t expect more than a handful now and then while you’re admiring the foliage. Fruit is a bonus.
In the establishment stage creeping raspberry requires normal watering. However, once established it is quite drought tolerant. For this reason it is also a great choice for containers. Foliage will spill over the sides of a pot creating an attractive display. It cascades over a wall really well too. I suspect it might even be pleasing in a hanging basket.
This native of Southeast Asia, specifically Taiwan requires little maintenance and is disease and pest-resistant. It thrives on all but the wettest soils. Creeping raspberry also attracts butterflies but usually not herbivores like deer and rabbits. I suspect a winter like our last might cause some damage, but this aggressive vine recovers quickly.
Despite its growth rate creeping raspberry is not invasive, so I don’t expect to see it in uncultivated areas. It also won’t climb trees like English Ivy and many other vines. It will, however, take over the bed where it’s planted even though it is less than four inches tall. Roots are thick and deep. Don’t expect it to play nice with less vigorous perennials.
It does compliment spring bulbs well. Plants are sparser then, so daffodils and hyacinths adapt effectively. Once creeping raspberry starts its growth spurt it’s time for the bulbs to fade away anyway.
As mentioned earlier, foliage is evergreen, but it’s not a boring green. Shades vary greatly from light to dark. Some are even silvery. Don’t expect it to wither when the mercury rises. It thrives in sweltering summer heat. As cold weather approaches rusts, pinks, and burgundies intermingle giving this prostrate ornamental Rubus an attractive blend of color.
The major trouble you’ll encounter now is finding some to put in your landscape. Few nurseries carry it but I expect that will soon change. In general I frown on non-native ground covers because they can get out of hand. This one seems to be different. I think the fact that it doesn’t fruit heavily may have something to do with that. Also the fruits are almost hidden by dense foliage. Birds have a hard time finding them.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.