Basin Notes - August 2006

Brambles are not really berries at all

With this year's glorious summer continuing to break all previous records, bear in mind that certain autumnal pursuits and events may come around quicker than we expect, e.g. the annual bramble picking season.

Picking blackberries or brambles is a childhood pleasure that few of us ever really outgrow. However, those seductive berries (not strictly berries at all, but a collection of single-seeded fruits called drupes) belie the fact that this is a "panzer" of a plant, always invading new territory. In order to spread, the berries are eaten by birds, which will ingest the seeds By the time the seed has fully passed through its digestive system, the bird may have flown miles.

In order to ensure its survival the seed, once germinated, performs the clever trick of turning into a thicket in just a few seasons - so Montrose gardeners beware!

The arching stems bend under their own weight and take root at the tips whenever they touch the ground You can actually tell which roots/shoots are "arriving" or "leaving" a particular spot from the way the prickles face. They curl upwards on shoots going down and downwards on shoots sprouting up, acting as grappling hooks for clambering over undergrowth.

Bramble fruits feed birds ranging from pheasants to blackbirds, as well as small mammals such as field mice. When the fruits begin to decay (some bushes are at this stage already) their leaking juice attracts peacock, red admiral and small tortoiseshell butterflies in large numbers, as well as wasps and other flies.

No wonder then that daidem spiders festoon the plant with their webs - the rotting fruit lures victims into their snares.

For more information on this delicious "berry" and folklore on most of our local flora, read Flora Britannica by Richard Mabey.

Mammals are - as a rule - hard to find, but the common and usually secretive roe deer breaks that rule now that its in mating season. If you take a walk in the early morning near lowland woods around the basin and Kinnaber, you may well see some of the rutting bucks and hear them actually barking.

Finally, spare a thought for the "screaming" swifts that we've all heard zooming about over our rooftops over the past few months. Usually and traditionally they are one of our last migrants to arrive in Scotland, and the first to leave. Please make the most of their spectacular aerial displays as they head off to their southern wintering grounds. It will be eight to nine months before they return.