5 BRAMBLE Rubus fruiticosus
Widespread and seen in a variety of habitats, especially hedgerows. Small, rose-like flowers bloom throughout the summer months.
There are over 400 described microspecies of bramble in the UK alone – each varying in the size and shape of leaf, growth habit and fruit. So rich and complex is the world of the common blackberry plant, that the study of it has its own word: batology. It’s a plant we tend to love and hate in equal measure, depending on context.
The recurved thorns that arm its arching stems – serving as both a defense against browsers and as ‘grappling hooks’ – are the main reason for animosity. However, they serve to protect more than the plant itself – they also act as a nursery for saplings, protecting them from the predations of browsing herbivores, such as deer, while also holding the nests of plenty of species of bird and mammal safe in their thorny arms. Highly palatable leaves, many of which remain through the winter months, are a vital salad to several species – from roe deer to bramble-mining moths, which leave wandering spirograph-like patterns.
A reason that lots of us can’t totally turn against it is the fruits ( above) — or, more accurately, the ‘drupes’. Each one is actually a cluster of up to 50 individual ‘black berries’, called drupelets, which contain a tiny seed (the ones that get stuck between your teeth). These sugar-and-vitamin parcels are the justification behind the only wild food foraging many of us do – the annual sport of ‘blackberrying’. As well as a bounty for many birds and insects, badgers and foxes can over indulge in this seasonal bounty – as evidenced by the vast quantities of purple poo visible during the late summer months.