Bramble

April 30, 2022

We have a spiny plant with arched canes that has been taking hold in the side patio bed for the last two years.  Two years ago, I made my disastrous attempt to grow onion sets in this bed.  I cleared everything out of the bed and kept it weeded, but the gutter spout was not draining right.  The water from the roof cascaded onto the bed, washing away most of the sets and causing the others to not produce.  I moved my onions last year and abandoned the bed.  When the roof and gutters were replaced last year it stopped the drainage problem, but I never got around to doing anything with the bed.  The bramble began to grow in the bed, but I ignored it.  I did find it interesting that the bush retained its leaves throughout the winter, and this year has begun to flower.  The bramble has finally gotten my attention.

When I looked online, I found bramble is the general term for any rough, tangled, prickly shrub, usually in the genus Rubus.  This generally refers to blackberries (Rubus fruticosus), raspberries (Rubus idaeus), or dewberries (ursinus), but is also used to describe other prickly shrubs such as roses (Rosa species).  Bramble bushes have long, thorny, arching shoots and root easily, sending up long, arching canes that typically do not flower or set fruit until the second year of growth.  Bramble fruits are aggregate fruits with each small unit called a drupelet.  The thorny varieties are sometimes grown for game cover and occasionally for protection.  Most bramble species are important for their conservation and wildlife value in their native range.

The bramble that has taken hold in my bed is the Rubus trifidus.  This is a Japanese species of bramble related to blackberries and raspberries.  This bramble is an evergreen shrub that grows to 6 feet 7 inches (2 m) in height.  It stays in leaf all year and flowers in May.  The trifidus is a hermaphrodite (both male and female organs) species and is pollinated by insects.  It can grow in semi-shade or no shade, and mine seems to like the north facing side of the house which has shade early and sun later in the day.  It prefers a damp, well-drained soil which it has not had because of the leaking gutter spout.  Now in the second season since the spout has been repaired the bramble appears to have taken off and is full flower.

THOUGHTS:  The bramble is often considered a nuisance as it invades unkept areas and is hard to get rid of.  The intertwining canes and prickly stems can be hazardous to humans but allow the plants to be used as fences in the field and for protection beneath windowsills.  The bramble flowers attract nectar-feeding butterflies (Lepidoptera) and hoverflies (Syrphinae) and are important food plants for butterfly larvae.  The common blackbird and small mammals feed on the nutritious fruits in autumn.  The brambles in the front of my bed are a nuisance and will be removed, but the brambles along the wall will serve as a wild food source for the birds and butterflies.  Many of the plants and animals we consider a nuisance play critical roles in the ecosystems they inhabited prior to humans.  Rather than removing the nuisance, we need to create innovative ways to incorporate these elements into the new human/nature environment.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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