I think everyone would agree that blackberries, the fruit of the bramble bush, are delicious. I’m not one of those people who risks the almost obligatory scratches to go blackberrying at this time of year – I prefer to leave them to the birds and minibeasts. But, at Cosmeston yesterday, I’d been walking longer than I anticipated and my stomach was rumbling so I thought I’d grab a few to keep me going.
Well, if looks could kill, I would never have made it home because these Red admiral butterflies were absolutely certain the blackberries belonged to them. And they weren’t going to relent, letting me get my hand really close to them without moving a millimetre. One even flew out and ‘buzzed’ me before re-settling on its chosen fruit. I got the message and left them to their feast.
I’m still pretty useless at identifying native British trees: I can get most of the more common big species, like Oak and Ash and Beech, but I probably couldn’t identify a Spindle if you paid me … except at this time of year. Because in the autumn, the Spindle (Euonymus europaea) lights up in psychedelic colours that remind me of a dress I had in the ’70s (yes, I am that old!).
The Spindle (so named because its wood was used to make the spindles used to hold wool and in spinning) has fruits that are hot pink. And not only that … when those fruits open up, the seed inside is bright orange. It’s such an outrageous colour combination that it makes me wonder why it’s so very bright … and I haven’t found the answer. I thought perhaps the orange was a way to attract birds and many websites say the seeds are eaten by small birds like Robins and Tits but, when I google images, I can’t find any showing birds actually eating them. The other alternative is that the colour is a ‘don’t touch me I’m poisonous’ warning – and certainly the fruits are poisonous to humans but to birds? If anyone has any information about this eye-popping colour combination, I’d love to hear it. Meantime, put on your shades and check out these psychedelics, man.
First, the glorious flowers: some look like crushed paper tissue, others like crinkled pieces of silk. They range in colour from bleached white through parchment with the merest blush of pink to a pink that reminds me of the sticky candyfloss I ate as a child at the local fair.
Once the busy little pollinators have done their work, the fruit begins to develop and my taste buds start to stir as I look forward to the delicious juicy treats to come. First, the clusters of little green globes and then, as they ripen in the summer sun, the tinges of red appear, hinting at the lusciousness to come.
And then one day, when I’m out on one of my wanders, I spot it, the very first black berry. Will it still be a little sour and will it flood my mouth with those delectable full fruit flavours of perfect ripeness?
Here in Britain they are called brambles, in my New Zealand homeland we called them blackberries and, in scientific terms, they are all grouped together under the unprepossessing name of Rubus fruticosus agg. Agg stands for aggregate, as in a grouping together of a range of very closely related biological organisms, because Rubus fruticosus includes a myriad of hybridisations. But, whatever you call them, for me they are one of the things I most love about late summer and, yes, I have already eaten my first yummy blackberries of 2016.