Rubus parviflorus is native to western North America from Alaska south as far as California, New Mexico, Chihuahua, and San Luis Potosí. Its range extends east to the Rocky Mountains and discontinuously to the Great Lakes Region. It grows from sea level in the north, up to elevations of 3,000 m (10,000 ft) in the south.

Rubus parviflorus typically grows along roadsides, railroad tracks, and in forest clearings, commonly appearing as an early part of the ecological succession in clear cut and forest fire areas.

Thimbleberry is found in forest understories with typical flora associates including coastal woodfern (Dryopteris arguta), Trillium ovatum and Smilacina racemosa.

Rubus parviflorus is a dense shrub up to 2.5 meters (8.2 ft) tall with canes no more than 1.5 centimeters (0.59 in) in diameter, often growing in large clumps which spread through the plant's underground rhizome. Unlike many other members of the genus, it has no prickles. The leaves are palmate, up to 20 centimeters (7.9 in) across (much larger than most other Rubus species), with five lobes; they are soft and fuzzy in texture.

The flowers are 2 to 6 centimeters (0.79 to 2.36 in) in diameter, with five white petals and numerous pale yellow stamens. The flower of this species is among the largest of any Rubus species, making its Latin species name parviflorus ("small-flowered") a misnomer. The flowers support pollinators, including of special value to Native bees, honeybees, and bumblebees. The fruit is attractive to birds. It is the larval host and a nectar source for the yellow-banded sphinx moth.

The plant produces edible composite fruit approximately a centimeter (0.4 inches) in diameter, which ripen to a bright red in mid to late summer. Like other raspberries it is not a true berry, but instead an aggregate fruit of numerous drupelets around a central core. The drupelets may be carefully removed separately from the core when picked, leaving a hollow fruit which bears a resemblance to a thimble, perhaps giving the plant its name.

Many parts of the Rubus parviflorus plant were used for a great variety of medicinal purposes by Native Americans.  Thimbleberries are very high in Vitamin C as well as A and can be used to treat scurvy. A poultice of the dried, powdered leaves can be used to treat wounds and burns, as well as the fresh ones to treat acne. A tea made from its leaves or roots can be used as a treatment for nausea, vomiting diarrhea and dysentery. Thimbleberry leaves can also be used as a natural toilet paper.

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