Arkansas Releases Tastiest Blackberry Yet
Since 1964 the University of Arkansas has worked to “build a better blackberry.” Initially, the breeding program focused on developing a thornless blackberry plant by taming down wild stock, but has since focused on hardiness, fruit size, fruit shape, berry production, and disease resistance.

“Ponca” is the latest variety to come out of those decades of research and toil. “This is about as exciting as anything I’ve ever had my hands on,” said John R. Clark, fruit breeder and distinguished professor of horticulture. “When I noticed how good Ponca tasted, I thought that if Ponca was someone’s first blackberry, it would change their entire perception of what a blackberry is. It’s our highest achievement for a sweet, enjoyable berry,”

Ponca produces flowers and fruit on second-year canes. It is thornless with erect canes. Berries average 6.8 grams, slightly larger than Osage and nearly the same as Ouachita varieties. The berries’ firmness is rated higher than Caddo and Osage and maintains firmness in rainy conditions.

First harvest is in early June at the Fruit Research Station in Clarksville, same as Natchez, two to four days before Caddo and Osage and seven days before Ouachita. Clark said Ponca can produce a secondary bud crop that begins ripening 14 to 20 days after the first harvest of the primary crop, providing some recovery if cold injury occurs during spring freezes.

Post-harvest storage potential has been comparable to Caddo, Ouachita and Osage, Clark said. Red drupelet reversion is low, similar to Osage and less than Natchez. Leakage from the berries was noted to be higher than other cultivars in some years, particularly when the berries are stored more than seven days. But its excellent sweet flavor is retained in storage, he said.

“Ponca plants have exhibited very good health with consistently healthy floricane leaves,” Clark said. “This contributes to its sweet flavor. It has shown to be disease free, showing no orange rust or anthracnose and very limited cane or leaf rust in all our research trials.”

Ponca’s winter hardiness has been comparable to Ouachita and has shown very little injury to a low of 1 degree Fahrenheit.

Ponca is available to licensed propagators now. Non-exclusive licenses are available in the United States. For information, contact Cheryl Nimmo at 479-575-3953, or by email at cnimmo@uark.edu.

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