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ISHS Acta Horticulturae 1133: XI International Rubus and Ribes Symposium

Breeding southern US blackberries, idea to industry

Author:   J.R. Clark
Keywords:   Rubus subgenus Rubus, fresh market, thornlessness, primocane fruiting, fruit quality
DOI:   10.17660/ActaHortic.2016.1133.2
Once a fruit only harvested in the wild in the southern US, the improvement of blackberry (Rubus subgenus Rubus Watson) into a commercially produced crop through breeding has been a major achievement. The University of Arkansas blackberry breeding program was begun by James N. Moore in 1964, the largest breeding effort undertaken in the South. His idea and vision was to bring this native fruit to more prominence in the commercial marketplace. Initial major objectives included large fruit size, high fruit quality, erect canes, extended harvest season, thornlessness, and high productivity. The first three cultivars released were 'Comanche', 'Cherokee', and 'Cheyenne' in the 1970s. These were all hybrids of a cross of the cultivars 'Darrow' 'Brazos'. Additional thorny, floricane-fruiting cultivars released included 'Shawnee', 'Choctaw', 'Kiowa', and 'Chickasaw'. The first thornless cultivar 'Navaho' was released in 1989. This was followed by 'Arapaho', 'Apache', 'Ouachita', 'Natchez', and 'Osage'. The early releases were used primarily for pick-your-own and local-market fruit sales, although 'Cherokee' was produced for the shipping market to a limited extent in the US and Chile. Later, 'Navaho' was found to have excellent postharvest handling potential, and contributed toward the development of a shipping blackberry industry in the southern US as well as being grown in other regions. The subsequent thornless releases have contributed to a substantial increase in production of shipping-quality blackberries in the South as well as the Midwest, California, and some production in the Pacific Northwest. Likewise, these have been used outside the US. Primocane fruiting became a program focus in the 1990s, and the first primocane-fruiting cultivars were 'Prime-Jim' and 'Prime-Jan', released in 2004, primarily for home garden or local-market use. 'Prime-Ark 45' was released in 2009, the first shipping-quality, primocane-fruiting cultivar. The first thornless, primocane-fruiting cultivars were 'Prime-Ark Freedom' released in 2013 and 'Prime-Ark Traveler' in 2014. The advances in fruit quality, thornlessness, primocane fruiting, and productivity have provided for substantial industry development and expansion in blackberries for the southern and other regions of the US.

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