If you’ve spent much time out in the woods in late spring and summer, you probably came across a prickly vine with dark black berries. Sometimes you see it growing in a patch close to the ground and sometimes you can find tall thickets of it.
There are at least 16 species of Rubus (dewberries and blackberries) that have been found in Mississippi: http://www.herbarium.olemiss.edu/echecklist.php?genus=Rubus
Dewberry or Blackberry?
Dewberry is very similar in appearance to blackberry, but they have different growth habits. Blackberry vines have tall, arching canes that can be as high as 6 or 7 feet in a thicket. Dewberries tend to trail along closer to the ground, forming thick patches in the forest although they may grow in height to 2 or 3 feet. Dewberry canes may even root at the tip of the cane as it bends over to the soil. Generally, these plants are found along roadsides, in clearcuts or open areas within forests, or along the edges of forests.
Another difference between the two relate to the type of thorns on each. The vines of dewberries are covered by slender, dense thorns and are covered in tiny, red, prickly hairs. Blackberries have stiffer, larger thorns than the dewberry vine. See a photo of the difference in thorns here: http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-2145/ANR-2145-low.pdf
Beginning in March, the white flowers of the dewberry (Rubus spp) can be seen dotting the forest flower. The fruits will begin to ripen in April and May, providing an early source of food for birds, deer, raccoon, squirrel, mice, and other mammals. Deer and rabbits also like to browse on the new growth of the plant in spring.
Blackberry vines will start to flower a few weeks after the dewberry plants and the fruits will ripen in late May or June. Mammals will also browse on the new growth of this vine.
Southern dewberry (Rubus trivialis) is native to the southeastern and eastern U.S. from Texas to the east coast northward up to Pennsylvania. See the USDA NRCS map to view its native range: https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=RUTR.