Highlights of a career in blackberry breeding: resiliency exemplified!

J.R. Clark
I began working in blackberry breeding in 1980 at the University of Arkansas. At the time the breeding program was in its 17th year and had released three cultivars. In the next 42 years I was able to experience an amazing change in blackberry cultivars and major traits, among these the broadening of thornlessness, postharvest handling advances, double blossom/rosette resistance development, and primocane fruiting. Each of these traits required resiliency in breeding to keep focused on improving these and other traits. A good supply of challenges were provided along the way to keep the diligent focus in place. The Arkansas program has focused on fresh-market cultivars for the majority of its life, and has utilized “Eastern US” tetraploid germplasm as the basis for improvement. Breeding advances have paralleled closely to industry needs, particularly in the area of fruit quality for the shipping industry. In the past 30 years, blackberries have taken their place on grocery-store shelves along with the other three major “berries”. The “fourth” berry, as blackberry is often referred to, has become routinely found in commercial markets because of improved storage capability. It is amazing the fruit firmness achieved so far, along with enhanced sweetness and aromatic flavors to make blackberries no longer a tart fruit to only be used for baking or with sugar added. Primocane fruiting offers the ability to grow blackberries in almost all environments in the world, making blackberry no longer only a temperate-zone fruit that requires substantial chilling. In many ways, we have only just begun to make the major steps in breeding to make blackberry a major berry crop in the world. My hope is the comments herein provide the basis for more long-term resiliency among blackberry breeders to make this amazing fruit all the more important for growers and consumers.
Clark, J.R. (2024). Highlights of a career in blackberry breeding: resiliency exemplified!. Acta Hortic. 1388, 1-6
DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.2024.1388.1
Rubus, thornlessness, fruit quality, firmness, primocane fruiting, pest resistance

Acta Horticulturae