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A Delicious Part of Salem's Past

The Marionberry is a bright, glossy blackberry with medium to large fruit, somewhat longer than wide.  It is special to the area because it is named after the county in which it was developed, and 90% of the world's Marionberries are grown near Salem.

There are only a handful of areas in the world where caneberries thrive and Oregon's Willamette Valley, known as the Caneberry Capitol of the World, offers the most favorable of all climates.  The Valley's moist spring rains, and summers that are warm in the daytime and cool at night, provide just the right conditions to  produce berries that are sweet and plump. The berry's taste is distinctively sweet, yet has a mildly tart and lasting flavor.  It has a serious following among berry aficionados, and is one of the most popular souvenirs purchased by visitors to the Willamette Valley.  Gifts of Marionberry jams and syrups have been offered to lure potential football players to the University of Oregon.

Marionberries ripen through spring and early summer, reaching their peak during July.  They are usually hand-picked early in the day. Nearly 900 Oregon growers work with about 20 Oregon processors to ensure that the delicate berries are packed fresh within hours of harvest. Oregon's 1995 Marionberry crop was more than 12,300 tons. Health-minded consumers find them a nutritional bargain. Just 65-80 calories per cup, they are high in vitamins and fiber, yet low in sodium and fat. 

Summer's fresh flavor is locked in this hybrid blackberry developed by Oregon State University's Agricultural Research and Development Program in Corvallis, Oregon.  It is a blackberry cross between two previous Oregon hybrids, the smaller, but tasty Chehalem and the larger, higher-producing Ollalie. George F. Waldo of the U.S. Department of Agriculture began its development  in 1945, and it was tested at Willamette Valley farms. The new variety was released under its name of Marionberry in 1956.

The Marionberry is a trailing vigorous grower, generally producing only a few long canes which grow up to 20 feet.  The Marionberry can produce up to six tons of fruit per acre.  The quality of the Marionberry is high, with flavor superior to the Boysenberry or Evergreen blackberries. Marionberries are well-suited for use in local fresh markets, and are used for commercial and home canning and freezing as well as pies, ice cream flavoring, jams, and jellies. Marionberry jams, syrups, preserves, and other products are shipped to Africa, Europe, Japan, Australia, and Thailand.  Just about anywhere a commercial airliner has gone, Marionberry products have gone there, too.

Native Americans all over North America have gathered blackberries. Early American settlers held blackberries in highest esteem, enjoying them fresh with cream or wine, in syrups, jams, pies, cobblers, grunts, slumps, pandowdies, wine cordials, teas, fruit waters, and flummeries. 

Only one type of trailing blackberry is native to the West Coast, Rubus ursinus. It has a slender trailing stem armed with flattened prickles and is found abundantly on prairies, burns, clearings, and dense woodlands from the Coast to the mid-mountains, from British Columbia to Northern California to Eastern Idaho.

The Evergreen blackberry, Rubus lacianatus is native of England, where it is known as the cut-leaf blackberry.  It appeared in Oregon around 1850, brought to the West Coast by explorers from England and then spread by birds.

The Himalaya blackberry was introduced by Luther Burbank at the turn of the 1900s, named for his belief that it came from the Himalaya mountains of Asia.   In fact, it was actually Rubus procerus of Germany.  This is the common blackberry in the Pacific Northwest, known well as a weed, as well as a source of berries for pies and jams, but not commercially grown.

In 1926, Philip Steffes of Sublimity, Oregon found a thornless plant growing east of Stayton, which was identical to the thornless Evergreen blackberry. When it was tested and found to be as productive as the thorny form, it quickly gained popularity as the main blackberry sold in the United States and grown extensively in Oregon.

Salem is not only home to the world-renowned Marionberry, but also the Zielinski blackberry. A wild variety of blackberry found near Salem by B. Zielinski, and named the Zielinski, was a successful cross with the Loganberry and found to have characteristics similar to the wild blackberry. Two of these were named Pacific and Cascade, and are grown in home gardens for their native blackberry flavor and used for home processing. Both are vigorous, ripen early, and produce up to four tons per acre. The berries, however, are too soft for commercial processing.

Learn more about the Marionberry, find recipes, and learn about more Oregon berries at the Oregon Raspberry and Blackberry Association's website:

Researched and written by Monica Mersinger

Oregon Raspberry and Blackberry Association, publications, 1999

Oregon State University crop reports, March, 2000




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marionberry pedigree
Marionberry Pedigree
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basket of marionberries
A basket of Marionberries
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