Description & Overview

Have you ever been raspberry-picking and thought to yourself, “These pesky thorns!” Well, consider the lesser-known Wisconsin native, drum please, Thimbleberry! This shrub forms a nice thicket and sports large, soft, velvety green leaves. White flowers appear in early summer maturing in mid- to late-summer to form fruits that are very similar to a raspberry in taste, without the thorns!

You may also know Thimbleberry as Western Thimbleberry, Western Thimble Raspberry, or White-flowering Raspberry.

Core Characteristics

Category: Shrub

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 3

Mature Height: 18-40 inches

Mature Spread: 12+ feet

Growth Rate: Moderate

Growth Form: Upright, spreading shrub

Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade

Site Requirements: Adaptable but prefers moist, fertile soils with good drainage.

Flower: Fragrant white, 5-petaled, 1 – 1.5" wide

Bloom Period: June to July

Foliage: Maple-like, 5 shallow lobes with points, 4-8" wide, green, pubescent, soft

Fall Color: Golden yellow to brown

Urban Approved: No

Fruit Notes: Aggregate fruit, red raspberry-like. Matures mid- to late summer

Suggested Uses

Thimbleberry is adaptable to many sites, though it does prefer moist soils, and handles full sun to part shade, making it versatile. It is best to give this plant plenty of room as it will naturally spread to form a thicket. The more the merrier is true for Thimbleberry as more plants will produce a heavier fruit set.

Bright white, large flowers pop against maple-like leaves and are quite pretty. In fall, leaves turn a bright golden yellow adding more color to the fall palette.

Ripe Thimbleberries have a sweet and tart taste with a hint of honey and a slight elderflower aroma. The taste is much like a raspberry but the texture of the fruit itself is a little fuzzier. Only pick the deep red berries but be careful – they are incredibly delicate and can squish easily. Enjoy them fresh or for jams and preserves, pies, sauces, and more!

With a natural tendency to spread, Thimbleberry is a good choice to naturalize a plot of land. Planting it after clearing away an overgrown area would help prevent more aggressive exotics like Buckthorn from taking over.

Use as an informal hedge to give shape to a native residential landscape or as cover along a woodland edge. It can also be wonderful around a pond as it enjoys moist conditions.

Birds love Thimbleberry and incorporating this plant into a bird garden alongside Elderberry, Viburnum, or Dogwood would provide a nice smorgasbord and increase diversity in the shrub population. It can be trellised, which is quite beautiful, or allowed to ramble and spread along the ground.

Wildlife Value

The fruit of Thimbleberry is an important food source for wildlife and is beloved by bears, elk, moose, white-tailed deer, quail, American Robins, Thrushes, Cedar Waxwings, jays, grosbeaks, towhees, and sparrows. Opossums, raccoons, skunks, foxes, squirrels, voles, mice, American Martens, and chipmunks also enjoy the fruit.

The flowers produce a large quantity of nectar, enticing pollinators. It is the host plant for Mining bees (Andrena melanochroa), Yellow-faced bees (Hylaeus basalis), Green Arches moth (Anaplectoides prasina), Thimbleberry gallmaker (Diastrophus kincaidii), and Yellow-banded Sphinx Moth (Proserpinus flavofasciata). Hummingbirds may occasionally stop by to drink the nectar.

Other visitors to the flowers include but are not limited to the Frigid Bumblebee (Bombus frigidus) and Sweat bees (Lasioglossum divergens), as well as Slender Clearwing Moth (Hemaris gracilis), and a variety of beetles.

The large leaves and sprawling habit provides excellent cover for small mammals, rodents, and insects.

Maintenance Tips

Thimbleberry reproduces by seed and via rhizomes, which can form a sizable colony over time. Any damage to the stem will trigger the plant to regenerate from the rhizomes. This is evident in its response to wildfires, after which Thimbleberry will vigorously sprout from underground rhizomes.
From a landowner’s standpoint, Thimbleberry is still manageable as you can mow over undesired stems, or with a little effort, manually remove them.

Fruit is borne on the old growth (previous year’s growth) – exercise caution when doing any pruning. Remove canes that have already fruited to aid in air circulation. Pruning is best done in late winter.

Pests/Problems

Black Walnut Tolerant: Yes
Deer Resistant: No
Rabbit Resistant: No

We have observed that raspberries grow under Black Walnut trees. Thimbleberry is closely related enough that we are confident in asserting that it is also tolerant to the juglone from Black Walnut.

Watch out for aphids, powdery mildew, anthracnose, botrytis, cane borers, and root rot. Galls are merely cosmetic and do not affect the health of the plant.

Leaf Lore

The genus name Rubus is derived from “ruber,” the Latin word for red. This species has the largest flowers and leaves of any other in the Rubus genus, an ironic twist to the plant’s specific epithet parviflorus, which means “small-flowered’ in Latin.

Many indigenous tribes ate thimbleberry as a source of food. The Hesquiat traditionally used the leaves as a flavoring for boiled fish, as well as to prevent the fish from sticking in the pot. The Klallam people historically ate the young sprouts in early spring, while the Kwakiuti dried and powdered the leaves and applied them to wounds, consumed for vomiting blood or internal disorders. The Okanagan-Colville Indians of British Columbia used to rub the leaves on the face of teens with skin blemishes.

Thimbleberry can hybridize with wild red raspberry (Rubus idaeus), but the resulting hybrid will often be sterile.

Companion Plants

In areas with similar site conditions, plant Thimbleberry with Sugar maple (Acer saccharum), Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea), Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis), Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), American Beech (Fagus grandifolia), Mountain Maple (Acer spicatum), Beaked Hazelnut (Corylus cornuta), Balsam Poplar (Populus balsamifera), White Spruce (Picea glauca), Dwarf Bush Honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera), and Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis).

For a bird garden, incorporate ThImbleberry with other shrubs such as Running Serviceberry (Amelanchier stolonifera), Glossy Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa var. elata), Redosier Dogwood (Cornus sericea), American Plum (Prunus americana), Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica), Common Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago), Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), and Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium).

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Written by Beth DeLain