Listening to the charming stories of Beatrix Potter when I was young, I wanted to follow the animals to the woodland's edge or under the gate and into hidden gardens. In Peter Rabbit, the obedient sister rabbits Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail came out from their home under the fir tree to pick blackberries along the lane. Their dinner of milk, bread, and blackberries seemed to me to be the perfect meal.
When I was young, I felt like a Potter character when some neighborhood children showed me where to pick blackberries in the one place that had a wild edge where we could explore. There was a black-tar path leading down to a basketball court and a babbling creek where we caught salamanders. Along the tar path, we found the berries in June or July.
Those childhood memories all came back to me when on a birding walk, our leader pointed out a blackberry thicket in San Simeon State Park on the Central Coast of California. It was growing in a marshy area, in soil that seemed a mix of dirt and sand that would easily turn to mud after even the slightest winter rains. It seemed to twine and twist in every direction. It grew right next to a twinberry, which I featured on this website in February 2007.
Making blackberries even more intriguing is that they are part of the rose family. The thorns on the branches give a hint of the blackberry's link to the roses.
The thorns help to protect animals who choose to hide in the many sheltered spaces created by the blackberry's twisting vines. Animals such as rabbits, mice, rats, songbirds, and ground birds, such as quail, are able to hide from predators in blackberry thickets.
A blackberry thicket, a dense shrubby growth, forms because underground shoots called rhizomes can send up additional stems. In addition, when an above-ground stem bends down to the ground from the weight of leaves, flowers, and berries, it can create a node where another vertical stem can grow. With new growth coming from underground and also from stems touching the ground, it can be a mystery to follow exactly how a blackberry plant got its shape.
The berries provide a wonderful source of food for the birds and small mammals you might expect. But foxes, raccoons, and even coyotes also eat the berries.
The words I most immediately associate with blackberry are bramble, briar, and thicket. I imagine that I heard these words for the first time in Beatrix Potter stories. All of these are old words in English. Thicket originally comes from word meaning thick. Bramble, a prickly shrub or vine, comes from a word meaning broom. That these words are old and have fundamental meanings reflects their connection to wild places.
Have your own traditional and wild experience of blackberries, even if you cannot go and pick some, by trying blackberry tea or wild blackberry honey. Wild blackberry honey is collected from the hives of bees who have pollinated the wild blackberry plant. I am planning to try some!
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