MARQUETTE, MI – It’s been a big wild berry season this year in Michigan.
Blackberries. Raspberries. Blueberries. Chokecherries. All of Michigan’s delicious fruits of the forest offered bountiful harvests for wild berry pickers this year – a welcomed change after several years of lackluster outcomes.
Foraging experts suggest this season’s warm weather and a lack of late spring freeze helped cue up a solid wild berry season.
“This is juneberry – serviceberry it’s also known as,” said Ryan Iacovacci, a well-known wild foods forager in Marquette, as he plucked the berries off a large bush and popped them directly into his mouth.
“My opinion is it’s one of the most flavorful berries. It’s subtle but nice.”
Iacovacci is a co-founder of MycoNauts, a mushroom growing business that also promotes wild mushroom foraging. He’s known to pick wild berries, too.
“These are an indicator I would say that it’s been a good berry season,” Iacovacci said Aug. 15, as he walked along a public pathway near Lake Superior in Marquette.
“We didn’t get that late freeze, you know, which maybe that had some effect.”
Other berry pickers agreed it’s been a fruitful year in Michigan forests.
Joanne Morrison of Sands Township in Marquette County brought her brother, sister-in-law, and another friend along with her to gather wild blueberries Aug. 16. They plucked the fruit from alongside Michigan highway M-553 in the heart of the Upper Peninsula, filling up an ice cream bucket with the wild berries in shades of blues and purples.
“I never found my dream patch this year. Normally I go out scouting in advance a little bit, so you know where there’s going to be a good one. I just hit-and-missed it. I still did OK, so it must have been a good year,” Morrison said.
“I didn’t get out as often as I usually do, but I still have enough in my freezer to take me through the year and now my brother has some, too. I think it was a good year.”
Her brother wanted enough blueberries for a single pie and went home with enough for four, Morrison said, laughing.
In mid-July, raspberry branches hung heavy with bright red, ripening fruit near the parking area at Little Sand Bay Nature Preserve on Beaver Island.
“These were loaded earlier,” said Beth Leuck, a retired biology professor and summer resident of the remote Lake Michigan island, as she picked and tasted the fruit before sharing with others. “I think it’s going to be a good berry summer.”
Later, Leuck munched on wild blueberries she picked while guiding a tour among environmental advocates at a poor fen, an acidic peatland with characteristics of both a bog and fen.
“And what we’re seeing here are the beginning of cranberry,” said Phyllis Higman, a conservation scientist with the Michigan Natural Features Inventory, pointing to a different plant in the boggy location.
Additional state natural resources officials confirmed that this year has been a productive wild berry season, at least anecdotally speaking.
“I’ve heard of and seen some good harvests of blackberries and blueberries. Many wild fruits like hot weather, so the limiting factor in productivity would potentially be the droughts from June-July that affected some areas of the state,” said Rachel Coale of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
She said drought affected mid-Lower Michigan during early summer, but now seems to instead be having an impact in the western Upper Peninsula and along the west coast of the Lower Peninsula.
In the Upper Peninsula, the DNR’s John Pepin said blueberries and raspberries seemed to be in good supply this season, as well as sugar plums and chokecherries.
“Blackberries are just coming to their best time up here right now. They are my favorite,” Pepin said. “I was hoping to find some while I went out fishing a few nights back. I backed my Jeep into a dirt road turnaround and got out to open the back. There were blackberries all ripe and ready right there.”
Michigan State University Professor Rufus Isaacs, a blueberry entomology expert, said it has been a better year for wild fruits. He credits a milder winter, good pollination, and nice growing conditions with the bounty.
Iacovacci said what has been unique about this season is the timing. That’s been a bit askew, he said.
“One of the strange things this year – and this is across the board with a lot of foragers – is all the berries are coming in at once. That’s kind of crazy,” Iacovacci said. “Raspberries usually come in early, and blueberries and serviceberries are kind of the same time. Blackberries follow thereafter. But this year, everything’s hitting at once. Thimbleberries – that was like, all at once.”
In addition to bountiful fruit foraging, wild mushroom gathering has also been good this year, Iacovacci said.
More information about foraging for wild foods can be found here, including which plants are off limits in Michigan.