Saturday 21 September 2019

Ireland has more than 80 bramble microspecies

Blackberries on a Bramble.
Blackberries on a Bramble.

Everybody knows blackberries.

The native prickly bush is abundant throughout the countryside and must rate as one of our most familiar and most easily recognised wild plants. Blackberry bushes are especially prominent at the moment as their fruit is rapidly ripening.

But there is more to the blackberry bush than meets the eye. Keen nature watchers may have noticed that there are different kinds of blackberry bushes. The Bramble is not a single species; it is an aggregate of several microspecies.

Some 320 microspecies of Bramble have been described in Britain; more than 80 have been identified in Ireland to date. The differences between these microspecies are so slight and so subtle that to the casual observer they look much the same. Consequently, the number of people who have the expertise to tell them apart is tiny.

Microspecies arise due to the complex way in which Brambles reproduce. They reproduce sexually with other Brambles in a regular way but they can also self-pollinate to produce fertile young. And they hybridise occasionally. Some microspecies have evolved in response to particular environmental and/or local conditions.

Brambles also reproduce asexually when the tips of the briars, the long, rambling stems armed with prickly thorns that arch from the plant, touch the ground and root. A length of briar rooted at both ends regularly acts as a snare to trip walkers on the headlands of fields.

Brambles are not fussy about where they grow. They can thrive in a wide range of soil types. They flourish in light conditions ranging from the extremities of full shade to full sun. They grow best in moist soil but can tolerate drought. Their underground seed bank is long-lived. They can also tolerate strong winds. The one thing they cannot cope with is prolonged exposure to salt air.

Brambles will continue to bear fruit from now to October. Their fruits have long been a source of great pleasure and nourishment to people and a host of wild animals, birds and invertebrates.

Blackberries start of as small, hard, green fruits. As they begin to ripen they swell and flush pink, then red. The red fades into purple as the fruits swells further and softens. Finally, the purple deepens to the familiar black and the fruit becomes soft and mushy.

Brambles are noted for attracting wildlife. In addition to the food they produce they regularly form scrubby thickets that provide shelter for nesting birds and many wild creatures.

Wexford People

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