Blackberry Wisdom

What do you see when you look at a blackberry bramble? A weed? A problem? Something that hurts you? Or like me, do you see something truly admirable?

I’ve been working in what I loosely call my garden this summer, attempting to rescue the yard from the overgrowth of a couple of years of neglect. In the hours I’ve spent there, mostly weeding and pruning (with scratches and bites to match), I’ve come to really admire the blackberries. They have a lot to teach us:

Have back-up systems
– Blackberries have a couple of ways of reproducing themselves. First, they reproduce in the usual way of plants, by seeds — lots of seeds! Every plant has many berries, and every berry has many seeds, so each plant has thousands if not millions of chances to reproduce that way alone. And those berries are delicious, so they get eaten by humans and other sweet-seeking creatures, who poop them out in other locations, where they can root and become new plants.

Blackberries also reproduce by rooting the plant’s canes. That is, each stem, called a cane, is only moderately self-supporting. It can rely on other structures, and act like a vine, but if there’s nothing to support it, it grows up and out for some length and then bends over. When it hits the ground, it roots itself, and more or less becomes its own new plant.

(Side note: if you’ve been reading these posts for a while, you may have noticed that I was mostly absent in August & September. It’s because my hard drive, which crashed, was not adequately backed up. Not having a good back up is very expensive both in time and money. It almost put me out of business. So please take my advice – back up, back up, back up!)

Be Flexible
– One of the tenets of NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) is “the most flexible system always wins”. It’s surely true of blackberries, which must be the cockroaches of the plant world. They grow in sunny locations, partly sunny locations and shady locations. They grow in rainy climates (we had them in our yard in NJ), they grow in dry climates (it never rains in the summer in northern CA). They grow where winter involves a hard freeze, and where it doesn’t. They grow on mountain sides, in forests, on lake shores and by the sides of roads. They grow like vines, supported by fences, trellises, trees, other bushes, you name it. They grow without supports, too, and can become very effective hedges.

Be Generous – Blackberries put out lots and lots of berries. In fact, early in summer, my husband looked out at the back yard and said, it’s a jungle out there. I replied that that jungle was going to feed us, so I refused to cut them down. And I totally underestimated the generosity of the plants! In addition to a daily serving of berries for about 2 months, I’ve made 2 cobblers, a blackberry chocolate cake, and blackberry coulis. Yum! So the weeds that my husband saw became a delicious addition to our diet. And if we weren’t westerners, with toilets, we’d have been planting berry seeds everywhere we went.

Be Persistent – Blackberries put out flowers, which become berries with seeds, continuously for over 2 months — that’s 1/6 of the year! If a freeze or a hail storm kills a bunch of flowers or berries before they’ve had a chance to mature — there’ll be more! And have you ever tried to eradicate a blackberry plant? You can’t, (or at least I can’t). Unless you get every part of a root, it will grow back. They are even growing from the spaces between our pavers! And that is part of their success.

Know that you are part of a community – Because those canes become new plants, still tied to the old plants, all the blackberry canes are simultaneously individual and part of the same plant. They are part of a community that has the same genetic heritage. We’re like that, too. As humans, we are part of many communities, both our genetic ones and ones of choice (where we live, where we work, where we recreate, etc.) and we would do well to remember that.

Protect yourself – Blackberries have thorns, lots of thorns — thorns on the canes, even thorns on the underside of the leaves. No animal is going to want to eat those canes, so they can grow undisturbed. And blackberries seem to have a fondness for poison oak. The two plants often grow together, which is further protection, at least from humans.

Point of view matters – If I look at the same plant from above, below, left and right, I’ll see different ripe berries which I can see only from that vantage point. We need to remember that, for other subjects. Other people will have other views. Your point of view is valid — and so is theirs, and if you take the best from all of your points of view, you‘ll have a much more complete picture of the situation than just seeing your own point of view.

It’s worth going over the same ground again and again – If you’ve done any internal work at all, on emotional issues, you have noticed that an issue you think is resolved will often pop up again, and it’s frustrating. But the blackberries have given me a different take on this issue. I picked berries from the same plot of ground, from the same canes for over 2 months. Emotional issues are similar — while you may have resolved one aspect of the issue, like picking one berry, there are lots more berries on the same cane, they’re just not ripe at the same time. Eventually, you run out of berries to pick, just as you eventually resolve all the aspects of your issue.

Hollis Polk is a personal coach (, who has been helping people create lives they love for 15 years, using neurolinguistic & hypnotherapy techniques, decision science, clairvoyance & the common sense learned in 20+ years of business. She is an NLP Master Practitioner, hypnotherapist & has a BSE in engineering from Princeton & a Harvard MBA. She is also a successful real estate broker, investor & business owner.