Rubus, Sorbus, Malus

A Hawker dragonfly camouflaged against black and red bramble fruits and green leaves.
Aeshna juncea on Rubus fruticosus: Common Hawker dragonfly on brambles

Colour is everywhere in the hedges this week; while the blackberries mould, the rowans harden, and the crab apples swell. Rubus. Sorbus. Malus. They sound like the words for a spell. 

Ripening early to perfection, this season’s blackberries were glossy and bulbous - in the entire harvest I saw only two with fungal spots. By mid-September, the crop was almost over; each berry taking on either that puffy, overblown look or shrivelling up to nothing. Weeks before Michaelmas - the traditional day when folklore tells us the Devil is allowed to start spitting on them - I found so few edible berries forming that I stopped picking and happily left them to the birds.

I worried slightly, that even the sparrows would reject them, leading to ripe fruits falling and instantly seeding where they lay. Each drupe contains a seed. Each berry contains up to 80 drupes. The potential for a forest of Sleeping Beauty proportions never seems too far away, and of course, the blackberry is a cousin to the rose (both are members of the Rosaceae family). Whether they eat them or not, the birds clearly enjoy the brambles as a place to socialise, sitting smug among the thorns while the cat eyes them from a distance. We are told that a variety of wildlife frequents brambles, but, in reality, I have only ever encountered blackbirds, robins and sparrows. Except for one day in late August when I nearly walked into a sunbathing Hawker.

Across the garden, bright red berries of another Rosaceae hang in weighty clusters. The blackbird likes her rowans to ripen to the point of near-rot. At some point, most likely on a cold November day, she will pluck them one by one then remove herself to some tenebrous location where the seeds will reappear hours later. More fussy than brambles, preferring open, well-drained soil, the rowan seeds will probably never germinate – in two decades I have only ever found one sapling.

In contrast, equinox sees the small, green marbles of the crab apple still forming. They bear no resemblance to the vivid, cherry-like fruits that cover the tree by solstice. Throughout October, each yellowing fruit develops a pink blush that deepens to scarlet. If you peel the skins, you see the red stain leaching far into the flesh. If you retain the skins, (but core the fruit - the pips contain the toxin amygdalin), a whole basket will give you just three jars of erubescent jam.  Any fruits left on the tree are eaten by the blackbirds in the darkest days of December. As with the rowans, and the blackberries before them, the birds wait for the cusp of decay. By January, even they reject the browning pulp, and the fruits finally fall. And yet, despite the hundreds of apples that grow each year, I have never found a new crab apple tree.

Rubus. Sorbus. Malus. Each prolific in their own way. Rubus. Sorbus. Malus. Simple autumn magic.