For fruit breeder John Clark of the University of Arkansas, the good old days for blackberries just weren't good enough.

“As a boy, I remember blackberries mainly went into cobblers,” Clark said. “We never sat around and just ate them.”

He wanted to change that, and varietal improvement seemed the way to do it. “(Now) I want blackberries to be good enough for consumers to enjoy all alone, along with the more traditional uses,” he said.

A better eating experience, including flavor and sweetness, has been a major emphasis of Arkansas' blackberry breeding efforts.

Starting with Navaho in 1989, the University of Arkansas has released 13 erect-growing, high-quality, productive, floricane-fruiting blackberry varieties, all featuring excellent flavor as well as storage and handling characteristics. Ouachita has been the most successful so far.

But the program's newest blackberry variety may prove the best yet with its improved flavor components, including more desirable texture and aroma.

• Osage ripens mid-early, slightly before Ouachita and just after Natchez begins harvest, Clark said. Osage produces medium-sized berries, comparable to Ouachita, and has excellent post-harvest quality for shipping to fresh markets in addition to local markets.

Clark expects that Osage will complement Ouachita in the mid-early to mid-season harvest period. Plants should be available from tissue culture sources in 2013.

Another new blackberry variety that features a very good sweet flavor is on the way from North Carolina State University.

Vonis a thornless floricane-fruiting blackberry that produces relatively late in the season.

In testing (under the name NC 430) at the North Carolina Piedmont Research Station in Salisbury, N.C., it performed as well or better than other varieties. Besides late production and sweet flavor, Von features small seeds and low acidity.

“It has good post-harvest shelf life,” said Gina Fernandez, North Carolina Extension small fruit specialist and bramble breeder. “The flavor is also very good.”
    

The variety was developed by Fernandez and Jim Ballington of the staff members at North Carolina State University. It is the first blackberry variety adapted for the southern United States that has been released from any breeding program except the University of Arkansas' in quite a long time, Fernandez said.

It is named after Harvey Von Underwood, formerly a researcher at North Carolina State University, said Fernandez. “Underwood worked in the previous North Carolina State muscadine and bramble breeding program in the 1950s-70s and was responsible for saving germplasm from those former programs.”