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The fruits of the autumn hedgerow

Black bryony, Tamus communis, in a Northamptonshire hedgerow. Image © GardenPhotos.comI’ve been trying to get out for a good walk every day - weather permitting - since I’ve been here in Britain and since a few chilly nights brought the last of the fall foliage to the ground the hedgerows are revealed as dripping with fruits.

Two plants stand out, their vivid red fruits shining brightly in the low late autumn sun.

There are two unrelated forms of bryony and the one with the crowded clusters of scarlet fruits now at their peak in the British hedgerow is known, perversely, as Black Bryony, Tamus communis (left, click to enlarge). Closely related to the yams of the tropics, this is a vigorous twining plant, snaking its way through woody hedge plants. As well as its scarlet berries it has fat tuberous roots, deeply ribbed triangular leaves, small green and white flowers – with male and female plants on different plants… And every part of the plant is poisonous.

It’s sometimes used as poultice to treat internal injuries but, frankly, it’s best just to admire it from a distance. Gardeners around the world can order Black Bryony seeds from Plant World Seeds.

The other plant that stands out is the dog rose, Rosa canina (below, click to enlarge), a much more substantial, even imposing, feature of the hedgerow with clusters of red hips which are a little less shiny than the black bryony berries so that they gleam in the sun but look more dull in the shade.

Mind you… I say dog rose, Rosa canina… But these hedgerow roses come in a confusing number of micro species, about thirty very similar but slightly different species some of which have five or even six times as many pairs of chromosomes as usual. They also have a slightly quirky form of reproduction known as permanent odd polyploidy – but you and I can both be delighted that I’m not going to try and explain it.

But what I can do is remind you that rose hips can contain as much fifty (yes, FIFTY) times as much Vitamin C as oranges! So those hedgerow rose hips can bring you a genuine health benefit. There’s more about Vitamin C in the hedgerows in a post from September last year. Gardeners around the world can also order seeds of Rosa canina from Plant World Seeds.

The final fruity feature of the Northamptonshire hedgerows along which I’ve been walking these last few days has been the sloes, Prunus spinosa. These are like small plums in both their appearance and their botanical connections – but not in taste. “Tart” is hardly the word but sloes make a fantastic flavored gin, as I discussed here back in 2007.

One other thing I’ve noticed these last few days is that the birds haven't got stuck in to all these fruits yet. But this looks like an exceptionally good year for hips and berries and other fruits, all of which will help so many birds, and small mammals, through the winter ahead – however tough it turns out to be.

Dog rose, Rosa canina, in a Northamptonshire hedgerow. Image ©GardenPhotos.com

Comments

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Alice

Have you found a U.S. source since your 2007 posting?

Alice

Sorry, that question about a US source was in regard to Prunus spinosa.

Graham Rice

I'm sorry, Alice, I haven't found a US source for Prunus spinosa. But if you send your mailing address to me at graham@grahamrice.com in the next two or three days I'll collect some fruits from an English hedgerow and send them to you.

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