BSBI Rubus workshop 2014 – a weekend of brambles !

But brambles all look the same, I hear you say, how could you possibly spend an entire weekend just looking at Rubus species ???

Well. If you’ve noticed that not all wild blackberries taste the same, there’s a reason for that.  It’s because there are in fact 330+ different kinds or microspecies.  Owing to a peculiarity in the way brambles reproduce, we have ended up with loads of local varieties which have all been described as new species.  A bit like dandelions.  A few people have sussed this out and become experts in telling which is which.  A group of botanists gathered at FSC Rhyd-y-creuau to meet these experts and start learning how to identify them for themselves.The first thing to know about brambles is that they take no prisoners and all seem to be quite vicious whether their spines look aggressive or not.  Secateurs and sturdy bags are needed to collect specimens, so a successful day out will involve you trundling home laden with numerous carrier bags of prickly vegetation.  Here’s a picture of our group showing the typical behaviour of ‘batologists’ – students of brambles:

batologists in their natural habitat

The second thing to know about brambles is that they are, helpfully, divided into groups which all have something in common, so if you aren’t sure of the species you can try to put it into the right group and then have a good chance of keying it out in the book.  The groups are divided up based on the hairiness of leaves, prickliness of stems, leaf shape and various other characteristics.  It’s very helpful to have flowers as well, as features like the colour of stamens can be important for identification.

The third thing to know about brambles is that there are not going to be 300 different kinds in your area.  You might find 30 and then keep seeing the same ones over and over again.  This means it’s possible to get to know your local brambles quite well and feel reasonably confident you are identifying them correctly.

Here are some nice distinctive species we saw over the weekend:

Rubus pedimontanusRubus pyramidalis

I think brambles are pretty tricky but I’m going to have a good look at the ones in my local park with a critical eye and see if I can’t work out what some of them are.

Thanks again to the BSBI for organising this workshop and FSC for hosting.


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