Brambles (Rubus spp.)

Family:

Rose Family (Rosaceae)

Other Names:

blackberry, briars, dewberry, raspberry.

Origin and Distribution:

The term 'brambles' is used as a generic name referring to the numerous blackberry, dewberry, raspberry and other Rubus species that grow as weeds throughout Ohio. Brambles are native to North America and can be found throughout the northeastern U.S. Dense thickets of brambles are often seen at forest edges and can also be found in abandoned fields, pastures, and roadsides. Brambles have become increasingly common in reduced tillage, where they compete with crops and interfere with harvest.

Plant Description:

Brambles are a diverse group of perennial herbs, shrubs or trailing vines, that are noted for their prickly stems and berry-like, usually edible fruits. They can reproduce by many different methods including seeds, root sprouts, underground stems (rhizomes), and branches that root at the tips (stolons). In some species, individual stems live only two years, but new stems are continually produced. In all species, roots are perennial.

  • Root System:

    The root system is usually very extensive, and many species form underground stems (rhizomes). Roots can live for many years.

  • Stems:

    Stems may be upright, arching, or trailing along the ground. Those that arch to the ground can root at their tips. Stems are red or green and often prickly, and can vary from smooth to hairy. The prickles on the stems can be few or numerous, and can range from semi-soft bristles to hard, stout thorns. For shrubby species, stems live for two years, stems are vegetative during the first year of growth, they branch, flower and bear fruit during the second year, and then die after the second year.

  • Leaves:

    Leaves are alternate (one per node) and composed of 3 to 5 (sometimes 7) toothed leaflets. Specific features of the leaflets (shape, number of lobes, presence of hairs, etc.) vary with species. For shrubby species, leaves on one-year-old stems often have 5 leaflets, while those on two-year old stems often have 3 leaflets. Leaflet shape may also differ between the one-year-old and two-year-old stems.

  • Flowers:

    Flowers typically have 5 white petals and are approximately 1 inch in diameter.

  • Fruits and Seeds:

    Fruits vary in color from black to purple to red, and can be round, cylindrical, or gumdrop-shaped. Each fruit is composed of many small, round, fleshy segments. Fruits are often edible.

Similar Species:

Roses (Rosa spp.), in general, can be distinguished from brambles by their perennial stems, which can live for many years. Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), a shrubby, invasive rose with prickly, arching stems and white flowers, can be confused with brambles. However, the leaves of multiflora rose are composed of 7 to 9 leaflets, and its smooth, red, oval fruits ('rosehips') are not composed of many small, fleshy divisions like those of brambles.

Biology:

Some species begin flowering in June. Seeds are generally short-lived and have low viability. Seed survival is favored by low levels of soil disturbance and residue cover. Brambles do not tolerate mowing, especially when stems are soft.

Toxicity:

None known.

Facts and Folklore:

  • The word 'bramble' was derived from 'brambel' or 'brymbyl', both of which mean prickly.

  • A study of bramble-infested areas showed that goats were more effective than sheep or cattle at controlling brambles. The thorny vegetation did not deter goats, which reduced bramble populations after one season and nearly eliminated them after two seasons. In areas grazed by goats, grass, clover, and alfalfa increased, while in areas grazed by cattle and sheep, bull thistle and Canada thistle became more common.

  • Bramble fruits are often used to enhance the flavor of red wine, brandy, and rum.

  • Fruits are used as a decoction for bowel complaints, and leaves are used as an astringent.