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Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2008

IN BLOOM

Blackberry


He roves, half-indolent and self-employed,
To rob the little birds,
Of hips and pendant haws,
And sloes, dim-covered as with dewy veils
And rambling bramble-berries, pulpy and sweet,
Arching their prickly trails
Half o'er the narrow lane.

From "Autumn" by the English poet John Clare (1793-1864)

In early autumn, countless plants begin to set fruit; warmed by summer sun, plump with summer rain. Brambles or blackberries (Rubus fruticosus) bear clusters of gleaming, black fruits. As you might guess from the shape of their leaves, they belong to the large Rosaceae family of plants, which includes apples, cherries, plums and strawberries. The Rubus branch of the family includes ornamental and edible blackberries and raspberries, several of which are native to China and Japan. The Japanese Wineberry (R. phoenicolasius), for example, has glittering leaves and long stems packed with bristling red hairs. It produces small, orange-red, edible fruit. European blackberries are a minor fruit in Japan ( kuromi-ki-ichigo literally means "blackberry-tree- strawberry," ie: a black raspberry), but in Britain they are a welcome sign of autumn, rambling prettily through hedgerows and cottage gardens just as they did in John Clare's day. People still enjoy "blackberrying" trips to the countryside, where they gather the fruit for making jams, pies and even wine. The best berries always seem to be just out of reach — but no matter; the birds love to eat them too. Brambles spread by seed, of course, but also via their unusual stems. When a stem tip touches the ground it can burrow into the soil, gradually take root, and in that way form a new plant.



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