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Rubus fruticosus, wild blackberry or bramble is a shrub of the Rose family and there are believed to be well over 200 species in the UK. This ubiquitous plant is the bane of many a gardener’s life, not least the gardening group at the Rec.!! Volunteers have battled with brambles over several sessions this autumn and the border alongside the tennis court is finally emerging from cover!
Bramble is predominantly a shrub of the temperate Northern Hemisphere and grows in a wide variety of habitats. The 16th century herbalist, John Gerard wrote “The bramble groweth for the most part in every hedge and bush”………and don’t we know it! As well as being unfussy when it comes to habitat, it can grow up to 3” in a day, roots easily when the tips of the arched branches touch the soil and can regenerate from small fragments of root and stem; the gardener does indeed faces a tough adversary!
But despite its thuggish reputation, it is a valuable shrub for wildlife and human foragers alike. It provides cover for nesting birds and small mammals and its flowers are a valuable source of nectar for pollinators such as the Brimstone and Speckled Wood butterflies as well as bees and other insects. And who hasn’t enjoyed an afternoon spent blackberrying. Despite purple stained hands and possibly a few scratches, there’s the inviting prospect of a delicious apple and blackberry tart. Of course the berries are also a good source of nutrition for many types of wildlife, although strictly speaking, the blackberry isn’t a true berry but an aggregate fruit made up of many small drupelets.
Historically, blackberries, along with malt and hops, were used to make a strong ale popular in the 18th and 19th centuries and bramble charcoal was used in making gunpowder.
Folklore dictates that blackberries shouldn’t be harvested after Old Michaelmas Day (11th October). It was believed that when the Archangel Michael banished the devil from heaven, presumably on his name day, Satan fell on a blackberry bush. The devil then placed a curse on the bramble and spat on it making the fruit unpalatable. There could be a certain scientific basis for this belief because the bramble does often succumb to mould such as Botrytis later in the season.
Finally, as a sad sign of the times, the blackberry no longer features in the Oxford Junior Dictionary, although there is reference to the android BlackBerry…..is it any wonder that there is an increasing disconnect with nature?!
Bramble’s certainly not everybody’s favourite plant, but in the right place, it makes an invaluable contribution to our landscape and ecology.