The black raspberry, or Rubus occidentalis, is a fruiting shrub in the genus Rubus. Rubus contains the slightly more well known plants such as the blackberry, red raspberry, and the dewberry. This plant is rather difficult to distinguish from the blackberry at first, and I've mistaken many of these fruiting in my Pennsylvanian woods this summer for blackberries. The easiest way to tell a black raspberry from a blackberry is to remove a ripe, darkened berry and observe whether the insides are hollow or not. If the inside is hollow and the stem doesn't come off with the berry, you have a black raspberry and not a blackberry. On the whole, black raspberries resemble their cousins in Rubus with 3-5 compound leaves, thorns, a shrub-like form usually referred to as "brambles", and a height of around 4-6 feet. Technically, the the "berries" are really aggregate fruits composed of many druplets. A picture I took (~450kb) is available at:
Black raspberries grow everywhere from cold arctic regions to semi-tropical areas, but are native to North America. They usually fruit during the summer months, but the exact time depends on your specific location. The season in New England appears to start late June and ends mid to late July. They can be quite prolific thanks to the edge effect, but you might not want to eat plants next to automobile roads because of toxin uptake. Going down the road to domestication is quite easy with these guys and growing them requires below average effort. Get some loose, well drained soil, preferably with high organic matter. Well balanced fertilizer such as 5-10-5 can be used in moderation if desired and you can apply iron with manganese to make the soil slightly acidic. Most black raspberry varieties are cold hardy and you can plant new tips in March or April. Keep moderately watered and in full sun.
In addition to being quite tasty, black raspberries are very good for you. They contain many phenolic compounds such as ellagic acid, gallic acid and rutin. Ellagic acid is especially interesting for its anti-carcinogenic and antibacterial effects. They also contain anthocyanins, which act like antioxidants to reduce damage done by free radicals.
If you ever find yourself having lots of these and nothing to do with them, there are plenty of recipes for pies, cobblers, and assorted baked goods. Here's a simple recipe for a cobbler that I've been using and I'd recommend:
Mix milk, one cup of sugar, all of the flour and the baking powder together to make batter. Get a 7''x11'' pan out and pour the melted butter into it. Pour the batter you made, the berries and the remaining sugar on top of the butter. Do not mix the batter, berries and sugar together and make sure you pour the ingredients in order. Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes.