If a blackberry bush were to star in a movie, it would be one of those complicated modern villains — bad but with some redeeming qualities.
Think of Russell Crowe playing the good-hearted outlaw in the 2007 Western "3:10 to Yuma."
Invasive Himalayan blackberries that sprawl across Ashland take over sites, crowding out native species and reducing plant diversity, according to the Oregon State University Extension Service.
Vitamin C 50%
Vitamin K 36%
Vitamin E 8%
Vitamin A 6%
Pantothenic Acid 4%
Vitamin B6 2%
For Ashland Fire & Rescue, blackberry brambles — which tend to have a tangle of dry canes beneath a facade of leafy green — are a fire risk.
But the thorny plants provide nesting spots and cover for wildlife, while the berries nourish birds, raccoons, squirrels, foxes and bears. Rabbits and deer nibble the leaves, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
For humans looking for a healthy snack, blackberries have no sodium and are almost fat-free.
One serving has only 62 calories but packs 50 percent of a person's daily need for Vitamin C, 47 percent of the need for manganese, 36 percent of the need for Vitamin K and 31 percent of a person's daily requirement for fiber. The anti-oxidant rich berries also carry smaller doses of other vitamins and minerals, according to www.nutritiondata.com.
Ashland resident John Semple is sold on the value of blackberries.
He wants to save a 74-foot-long, 10-foot-wide swathe of blackberry bushes growing on Ashland Parks & Recreation Department land next to his yard on Almeda Drive.
The parks department has been notified by Ashland Fire & Rescue that it has until June 15 to remove the bushes.
Each spring, city employees work to notify landowners — including the parks department — of overgrown bushes and weeds that could pose a fire risk once the hot, dry days of summer arrive.
Last year, Semple asked for the hedge of blackberries to be saved, and it was.
But then he found out on Monday that the blackberries are again slated for destruction. That prompted Semple to pay a visit to the Ashland City Council when it met on Tuesday night.
"The bushes provide us, and our neighbors, with fresh berries in summer, act as a barrier to traffic in the wetlands, and abate blowing dust into our home and yard," he told councilors. "Small animals live in these bushes, along with the birds who nest there."
The blackberry bushes border a wetland, which has cattails that can be seen poking up through some of the brambles.
Parks Department Director Don Robertson said that because the fire department has notified the parks department to remove the bushes, they will be taken out through mowing and hand removal. Spot applications of herbicide will follow to prevent regrowth.
Robertson said the work will go forward unless city officials waive the requirement to remove the blackberries.
City Attorney Richard Appicello said the parks department would have to appeal to the city and argue that the bushes are not a nuisance.
Semple lives near the Dog Park and the Ashland sewage treatment plant, far from the forested hills above Ashland. He said he does not believe the bushes are a fire risk because they are bordered by his lawn, a field where the vegetation has been trimmed down, the wetlands and the sewage plant.
City Administrator Martha Bennett said she will look into options for dealing with the blackberry bushes next to Semple's land. But allowing the parks department to keep the bushes raises questions of fairness.
"As property owners, it's hard for us to tell people to do something on their lands that we're not doing on our own lands," she said.
Failing to cut back flammable vegetation can lead to fines of up to $500. For more information on city rules governing weed abatement, visit www.ashland.or.us/weedabatement.
For information on contractors who can remove weeds and blackberry bushes, check the yellow pages of phone books or visit www.ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=11933.
Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.