bramble defined in 1912 yearbramble - BRAMBLE (Rubus fruticosus);
bramble - The latest theory about the Brambles is that there are no fewer than one hundred and three different kinds growing in our little British Isles, which speaks volumes for their variability! Some botanists, however, are not so exacting, and content themselves with discovering forty-five species, others sixteen, and others, again, are satisfied to class them under five species, though they admit that individual Brambles show many peculiarities, for Brambles, unlike daisies, do not Consent to be cut out in one universal pattern.
The Blackberry Bramble is found everywhere in our hedges - "as plentiful as blackberries" is a byword - but it is not quite so much nature-sown there as we are apt to think, for our forefathers used definitely to plant the Bramble in the hedges to fill up weak places. Thus an agricultural writer in Queen Elizabeth's reign urges farmers in preparing a hedge "to sow in the seed of the bramble and haw" and he further advises:
To plot not full
Ad Bramble and Hull,
For set no bar
Whilst month hath an R,
which, being interpreted, declares that Bramble and holly may well be set in all the months of the year except May, June, July and August.
The Bramble is specially fitted for a hedge plant. Its stems weave with great rapidity in and out of the branches of other growths; they are thickly vstudded with hooked prickles which point backwards and so are no hindrance to the plant pushing through the hedge, but which are of the utmost assistance in preventing it slipping back. Anyone who has tried to draw a Bramble shoot out of the hedge knows the difficulty of the task. Sometimes the long whip-like shoots arch over and touch the ground again, whereupon they send out roots and start new plants at that point. The older part dies, the apex left grows upwards and new branches arise. A strange cure once advocated for rheumatism was to find one of these arches and then crawl under it. One's pains were supposed to be left behind! These shoots were formerly used to bind down the sod on newly made graves, so Jeremy Taylor reminds us, "The summer gives green turf and Brambles to bind upon our graves." For bee-hives and hayricks they were equally serviceable.
The leaves of the Bramble are remarkable for the gorgeousness of the colouring that they carry in autumn days, their glowing reds being some of the most beautiful we see. Hence is the plant's Latin name rubus. They are further noteworthy for the little prickles that run up the midrib on the back of the leaf and which do their humble share in fixing the plant securely on the hedge-side. The face of the leaf is smooth, the back is covered with a coating of hairs. Kerner points out in a simple experiment how these hairs affect the welfare of the plant. "If one (i.e. a leaf) be wrapt round the bulb of a thermometer - hairy side outwards, and another be wrapt round the bulb of a second thermometer smooth side outwards, and both thermometers placed in the sun, the temperature of the leaf with the smooth side outwards will be several degrees (2° - 5°) above the temperature of the one with the hairy side outwards. Also if such leaves be plucked and exposed to the sun, some with the white felted side, others with the smooth green side, uppermost, the latter always shrivel and dry up much sooner than the former. There can be no doubt after this, that a dry coat of hair over succulent plant tissue which is exposed to the sun's rays, considerably restricts the heating of and exhalation from this tissue." But probably in the Bramble the hairiness is rather to protect from mists which rise from below. In the late autumn a pale twining mark like the trail of a serpent is sometimes seen. This was formerly regarded with superstition as the special mark of the Devil, and such shrubs were severely left alone, however luscious their fruit. Nowadays we know that it is merely the track of a small moth.
The flowers may be found in bloom from June to October, and they have the usual character of the rose family, to which this plant belongs. There are the five sepals, in a cup-like ring at first, but sharply turning down their long, fine points as the flower approaches maturity; five delicate petals, sometimes white, sometimes tinged with pink; very many stamens crowded in a thick ring, and in the centre and raised above sepals, petals and stamens are the many carpels. (In the crab-apple with a similar flower, the carpels are sunk in a depression at the end of the leaf stalk, and this is the more usual thing.) A bountiful measure of honey is stored in a fleshy ring just below the stamens, and is quite accessible to insects with short as well as long probosces. Therefore, the Bramble has a perfect host of visitors of all sorts - as many as a hundred different ones having been counted. The outer ring of stamens shed their pollen first and turn their faces up; the stigmas are ripe at the same time, but with so many visitors foraging among the stamens for honey and pollen the flower usually gets cross-fertilised before the inner stamens pour out their pollen in close proximity to the receptive columns of the carpels. This cross-fertilisation is expedited by the fact that a bee in settling on a Bramble flower necessarily chooses the central, stronger part - the carpels - as his alighting place.
And so we come to the fruit - and, after all, in the Blackberry Bramble "the fruit's the thing." Again we notice how variously the members of the rose family, all with flowers of a similar type, go to work when it comes to fashioning fruit, for the blackberry differs essentially from crab-apple, rose and strawberry. In this case each little separate ovary in a flower becomes fleshy, juicy and sweet, and can be distinguished apart, though all - twenty or more - cohere to form the blackberry, which is, therefore, known botanically as an "aggregate fruit." In each sweet granule of the mass is a single seed. If we compare a strawberry with a blackberry, the hard yellow specks on the strawberry are the equivalent of the black juicy knobules of the blackberry, while the red flesh of the strawberry is equivalent to the dry stalk end of the blackberry. (In the raspberry, which is very similar to the blackberry, this dry stalk end, in the shape of a cone, can be pulled out of the fruit clear and entire.) Naturally so sweet and luscious a fruit makes a special appeal to the birds, and it is eagerly seized and eaten by them; apparently the dry little seeds pass unharmed through their bodies. As the autumn comes on, a species of decay sets in, which is doubtless the cause of the old legend that on the day of St. Simon and St. Jude - October 28 - the Devil sets his foot on the Brambles, and not a single decent fruit can thereafter be found. A variation of this legend is that the Devil throws his cloak over them in late autumn and hence they must be avoided; and children, particularly in Ireland, were strictly forbidden in late October days to touch the fruit.
In some parts of the country the fruit is known as "bumblekites," in others "scaldberries," from the idea that too great a feasting on it gave the children the "scald-head."
Naturally this plant has played its part in the remedies of the old herbalists. From very ancient days both the flowers and fruit were considered a safe cure for the bite of a serpent; the roots were boiled in wine by Roman physicians and given as an astringent; the fruit was, and still is, valued in decoctions for soreness in the mouth and throat. At one time a black dye was obtained from the stems, and it is said that silkworms will thrive upon the leaves, and spin cocoons of excellent silk thereon.
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