Derek – Thursday 8th August 2019

A painted lady and cabbage white butterfly fly through the pergola. There are lots of butterflies around, and bees too, in the remaining flowering plants: hollyhocks, globe thistles, gazanias, and lychnis. But it is also the time of year for blackberries and there are quite a few by the side of the pond, but difficult to get at as they are surrounded by stinging nettles. Aren’t bramble thorns enough?

There are more blackberries at the back of the container, poking over the hedge. These are difficult to get at too, but that’s because of all the junk we have shoved back there. I am surprised the birds haven’t got them all.

Botanically, blackberries are not berries at all. The common definition of a berry is small soft fruit without a stone but having small pips instead. Examples are strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants. Soft fruit is the horticultural term for such fruits. And blackberries make the team.

But berry has a different botanical meaning. A true berry is fleshy fruit, formed from the ovary of a single flower, with seeds embedded in the flesh. Examples are tomatoes, grapes, kiwi fruits, bananas and cucumbers. This definition does not include blackberries (or raspberries and strawberries).

It is an interesting example of how botany and common names diverge. Scientific definitions need to be precise. Not that any of us are going to call a blackberry anything other than a blackberry, though strictly it is an aggregate of drupelets. Each drupelet contains a seed. Blackdrupelets? I don’t think that will catch on.

Blackberries are in the family Rosaceae of which some members are drupes full and proper, like plums and peaches. A drupelet is just a small drupe, and makes me wonder just how something like the blackberry developed. I am reminded of the family of flowers called compositae where lots of flowers form one flowerhead in plants like the dandelion and the daisy. Nature does this sort of thing, just to confuse us amateurs.

I take a seat and quietly watch one of the bird feeders. I see a group of sparrow fledgelings, small and quite scrawny, feeding. They have recently left the nest, and in just a few months have to cope on their own. It’s a tough life being a bird, the chances of getting to adulthood are not great, though better than a tadpole’s, which is why frogs lay so many eggs and birds a lot less.

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