Botanists recognise about 300 ‘micro-species’ of the common bramble, which are hard to classify as they have strong similarities and can cross-pollinate, hence the umbrella term of ‘aggregate’ to describe this complex of species. Leaf sizes and flower or fruit sizes can differ between plants, but generally they all have the same identifying features.
The plant has long arching stems covered with sharp thorns and 3-lobed toothed leaves.
The flowers are white or pink, with 5 petals, and the well-known blackberry fruits are raspberry-like, glossy and red, turning to black when ripe.
These extremely hardy plants can thrive on the poorest of soils, and are to be found in bushy hedgerows, woods and roadsides throughout most of Scotland, although they are less profuse in the Highlands and Western Isles, and were absent until introduced into the Northern Isles.
Bramble is a valuable food source for a number of species. Honey bees and bumblebees like its flower nectar, and grazing animals like deer feed off the leaves. Certain species of caterpillar rely on the bramble, like that of the concealer moth. Foxes, badgers and small birds eat the berries, scattering the seeds far and wide.
Ripe blackberries have a high vitamin C content, and contain phytoestrogens especially beneficial to women’s health. The bushes help prevent soil erosion on waste ground.