In his time, Luther Burbank named and released about 40 blackberry varieties, but none evokes such fascination as the Iceberg white blackberry, now known as the Snowbank.
“Was there ever in nature a berry just like this?” a visitor to Burbank’s farm once asked him. “Probably not,” Burbank wrote, “but there was a small white berry and a large luscious black one, and I have brought the best qualities of each together in a new combination.”
Burbank was a disciple of Charles Darwin, and his approach to plant breeding reflected his belief in the theory of natural selection. He crossed the Lawton blackberry — a berry he revered for its brawny size, sweet flavor and genetic stability — with a so-called “white blackberry” discovered growing wild in New Jersey and marketed as a garden novelty. The Crystal White berry was actually a brownish yellow color, and Burbank seemed thoroughly unimpressed with it, writing in The White Blackberry: How A Color Transformation Was Brought About that “it had as little pretension to beauty as to size of excellence of flavor.” Nonetheless, it provided him with the genetic material he needed to perfect a white blackberry.
In the mid-19th century, “white blackberry” seemed to be a catch-all phrase for any blackberry lacking its characteristic blue-black pigment, and there were several other varieties for sale. In 1852, New England Farmer made note of Needham’s White Blackberry, described as having large amber-colored fruit and a sweet taste. Illinois nurseryman John B. Orange introduced several white blackberries, including an oblong pink berry he called the Albion, after his hometown. He also raised a cream-colored berry he called the Colonel Wilder (in honor of Marshall P. Wilder, a president of the American Pomological Association), and the Crystal White, also known as Orange’s Crystal, which shares its name with the berry Burbank used to make his Iceberg.
It took Burbank many tries to create a strain that would bear the translucent white fruit consistently. But in 1894, he offered it in his New Creations in Fruits and Flowers, and the price was steep: $2,500 for a large bush and 300 strong plant cuttings, the equivalent of about $73,000 today!
After its initial introduction, hundreds of nurseries and catalogs offered the Iceberg. Pitcher and Manda of Short Hills, N.J. began selling it in 1897, teasing customers with ads in its catalog the previous year. Myer and Son hailed it as “an anomalous specialty — a white blackberry that is really good!” In 1900, J.W. Ramsey called it “the paradox of the fruit world.”
In 1916, Burbank released the Snowbank, which he created by crossing the Iceberg with the Crystal White berry. But by the 1930s, white blackberries had all but disappeared from catalogs.
At Baker Creek, we kept hearing tales of white blackberries from old-timers around our farm in the Missouri Ozarks. A few years ago, photographer Brian Dunne found a patch on his land, and Jere Gettle started his quest to find this variety for sale.
In the early 1990s, the Luther Burbank gardens acquired Snowbank plants from a donor who wanted to make sure they were preserved. But the plants were infected with a virus, and it took years of research and cleanup to make the Snowbank disease-free and available to the public once again.
We are amazed by the berry’s sweet, almost tropical flavor. It’s like a typical blackberry, but even sweeter! Try this exquisite and unusual variety in your berry patch!