Saturday, 18 June 2011

Not all is what we think it is….

Rubus fruticosus in flower

Most of us tend to look upon bramble growth with irritation and dismiss the plant as common and painful, apart from when it bears fruit.

After my previous post I made a bit of an error of judgement and promised my Facebook friends that the next one would be on brambles.  It seemed a good idea at the time, but it has taken me a long time to get not very far with it….

Rubus fruticosus leaves
….because brambles are very common and not very photogenic when they aren’t in flower.  Also because the whole topic is enormous and complicated and incredible!

At the moment the season progresses and our shed is hidden from view by a thick tangle of fast-growing thorns.  Every year it is the same.  I gave up getting to the roots when I realised that the little bits I left were enough to grow later.  Spring brings out machete-like hacking.

Rubus ulmifolius - an EASIER difference to spot than most!
(photo Simon Davey)
However to some the bramble is a joy to behold and the focus of intense study.  People who get this enthusiastic are known as Batologists (after berries not flying mammals…).  In the United Kingdom alone, according to the National Museum of Wales there are c325 named species of bramble Rubus (the genus containing brambles), with maybe 200 more yet to be named! Just think of that when next you pick fruit for bramble and apple pie.

Rubus deliciosus -
an American wild raspberry
Rubus as a genus includes raspberries and many other fruiting plants such as cloudberry.  There are others that have bitter or worse berries but largely the fruits are a significant feature in the genus.  Ornamental blackberries have been bred to reduce or eliminate the thorns.  Some have been bred to have shorter growth and sharper thorns and are used in hedge planting to maintain structure and reduce livestock and human attempts to break through.  The variations within the ‘common’ bramble that we think we know so well are subtle and often hard to tell without access to herbarium specimens for comparison of features such as size and floppiness of flower; colour of flower; size and shape of leaves; length of branching; size and lusciousness of fruit; fluffiness of the under-side of the leaf; or position of fruit on the stem.  It just goes to show we don’t always know what we think we do about what we see in front of our eyes.

Bramble and apple crumble was a staple pudding in childhood days.  I remember many brambling days when SOME of the berries made it back home, tell-tale purple blobs on chins and shirt-fronts explaining very clearly why the haul wasn’t as big as it might have been.  As a child I was torn over which was the favourite season, spring or autumn and plumped for autumn because of all the fruit!  Now I prefer spring because it has optimism and new growth.  And flowers, even on bramble branches….

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