Plant of the month: Wineberry

With fuzzy, rust-coloured stems that catch the winter light – and edible summer fruit – there's a lot to like about this unusual shrub

Japanese wineberryThe Japanese wineberry – Rubus phoenicolasius – is a plant that often goes un-noticed during the summer but during the winter months it looks fantastic with its brightly coloured stems.

Rubus is a broad genus covering shrubby species such as the Chinese bramble as well as the edible raspberries. Rubus phoenicolasius is a Far Eastern species that is not commonly grown in the UK and was introduced to Europe and the United States as an ornamental plant with potential for being used in the breeding of hybrid raspberries.

Although it common name is the wineberry and its berries can be eaten, that is not the reason it is being grown at Hyde Hall. The stems are the main reason this plant is grown, as they are bright orange-red in colour and look superbly radiant during the winter months when they are enhanced by bright red thorns and finer bristles that are also orangey red.

This deciduous species has small white flowers during early summer, followed by shiny red berries which look attractive set against the bristly red calyces. If this species is being grown for its fruit it could be fan trained rather than being grown as a free-standing shrub. Wineberries are easy to grow and prefer a sunny spot. However, they tolerate part shade and will reach 2m tall and up to 3m across if left un-checked.

They will also grow in most soils but prefer  moisture retentive, fertile, well-drained conditions. Every two years or so the older stems should be thinned out and removed to encourage the new stems to be produced.
Japanese wineberry stemRubus phoenicolasius can be found growing in the new Winter Garden at Hyde Hall at the top of one of the sculpted mounds, where its stems can trail down the sides and its visual quality can be maximised as it's growing at eye level rather than at ground level.

Wineberries need to be given space to develop, so avoid planting other shrubs too close - but smaller perennials and grasses work well around them and add further interest. Bergenias look good and add a contrasting colour with their dark red foliage; try ‘Overture’ or B. cordifolia ‘Vinterglod’.

Also featuring in the Winter Garden are Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’ with bright yellow and green variegated leaves and Luzula sylvatica ‘Aurea’ with  bright yellow leaves. Both of these act as a contrast to the darker tones of the Rubus during the low slanting daylight of the winter months.

See also

Discover the Winter Garden at Hyde Hall

Winter stems at Wisley

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