Watch out for those bram­bles un­der­foot


DID YOU ever trip on a briar? Bram­bles are both the de­light and the bane of those who walk in the coun­try­side. A bush laden with juicy blackberries in late sum­mer or early au­tumn de­mands that one stops to pick and to savour the col­lec­tion of tasty black dru­pes joined to­gether to form the fa­mil­iar way­side wild fruit. Blackberries are a truly lovely if some­what un­der­rated fruit.

The down­side of the Bram­ble comes when it's arch­ing and trail­ing stems root. An arch­ing stem roots, arches on and roots again to form mul­ti­ple, hooped, snare-like traps hid­den in the grass. Ar­moured with sharp, curved prick­les th­ese snares are likely to catch the toe of the un­wary walker. The dan­ger of be­ing tripped by th­ese Bram­ble traps seems to be par­tic­u­larly acute while on a na­ture trail at this time of year.

All flow­er­ing plants are di­vided into three sim­ple cat­e­gories de­pend­ing on how long they live. An­nu­als com­plete their life cy­cle within one cal­en­dar year; seed ger­mi­nates in the spring, the plant grows to ma­tu­rity and flow­ers dur­ing the sum­mer and it fruits and dies down in au­tumn.

An­nual plants live their whole lives in just one year. Bi­en­ni­als take two years; they grow dur­ing the first year but don't flower and fruit un­til the fol­low­ing year. Peren­ni­als are long-lived flow­er­ing and fruit­ing over a num­ber of years.

Bram­bles are a mix­ture in that the un­der­ground root­stock is peren­nial whereas the stems that make up the ae­rial shoot are bi­en­nial. Bram­ble roots pen­e­trate deep into the soil and live for many years. The root­stock throws up new stems each spring. Each trail­ing stem nor­mally lives for only two years.

First year stems can be a few me­tres long, have large leaves each with 5-7 leaflets, don't bear flow­ers or fruit and can some­times root when they touch the ground form­ing snares and giv­ing rise to daugh­ter plants. Dur­ing the sec­ond year the first year stems pro­duce side shoots that are short, have smaller leaves each with 3-5 leaflets, bear flow­ers and fruits and don't root.

Bram­bles are ag­gres­sive in­vaders of waste ground where they quickly form a thicket, the dense tan­gles of arch­ing stems be­ing com­monly known as briars.

Over 80 dif­fer­ent kinds of Bram­ble have been iden­ti­fied in Ire­land. They are an ex­tremely dif­fi­cult group so only a hand­ful of spe­cial­ists tackle the job of telling the many, al­most iden­ti­cal, dif­fer­ent kinds apart.

Over 80 dif­fer­ent kinds of bram­ble have been iden­ti­fied in Ire­land.

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