Blackberry & Silver Birch
Blackberry & Silver Birch
The blackberry is an edible fruit produced by many species in the genus Rubus in the family Rosaceae. The fruits have been used as human food for thousands of years. They were found in the stomach of a Neolithic man excavated from submerged clay off the Essex coast in 1911. The roots were used in the Highlands to make an orange dye, and the leaves were placed on burns and swellings. The curved prickles may be responsible for the local names of Lawyers, as Brambles from whom escape may be hard. The botanical name Rubus fruticosus covers over 300 species. Shakespeare's (1) Falstaff says: ‘If reasons were as plentiful as blackberries, I would give no man a reason upon compulsion' (Henry IV, Part I). Blunt (2) reproduces in colour a realistic study of a Bramble in fruit from a Latin version of the herbal of Apuleius (3) written at Bury St Edmunds around 1120 and gives a black and white illustration of a water-colour from Dioscorides (4). He also reproduces a sketch by Leonardo da Vinci from c. 1503 which he describes as among the first truly modern botanical drawings It is one of several da Vinci (5) drawings in the Royal Library at Windsor. Others were reproduced in The Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci by A. E. Popham (6) (1946).
Betula pendula (also Betula verrucosa), commonly known as silver birch, warty birch, European white birch or East Asian white birch is a tree in the family Betulaceae, native to Europe and parts of Asia, though in southern Europe it is only found at higher altitudes. Both the Silver Birch and the Birch ('most shy of trees' as Lowell (7), for some reason, described them) are native. The Silver Birch, with smooth, silvery-white bark above black and fissured bark at the base, forms woods, especially on lighter soils. It colonises heathland and is a successional stage in the process leading from heathland to mature oakwood. The ordinary Birch, with smooth brown or grey bark, has a similar distribution but is more tolerant of wet and cold. The Irish believed the fairies disliked Birch. In the west of England crosses of Birch were used to repel enchantment. More practical uses included making arrows, bolts, shafts, and household brooms, as John Evelyn (8) reported. The timber is today used for plywood. The name comes from the Anglo-Saxon words beorc, birce and byrc, meaning bark - as the rind of a tree and as a type of boat (barque). The bark can be make torches and rolls of bark have been found at Mesolithic sites. Like Broom, Birch was used to put out rubbish and evil. The magistrate's birch may not have been to inflict painful punishment, but to put evil to flight. Herbalists use oil from the bark for skin diseases and as a constituent of insect repellent. The juice of the leaves, or the sap, is said to break stones in kidney or bladder and to be good for washing sore mouths. John Grigson (9) has a woodcut of Birch from Hieronymus Bock (10).
(1) Shakespeare, William (1564-1616) Henry IV Part I, c. 1597;
(2) Blunt, Wilfred (1901-1987) teacher, artist, author, The Art of Botanical Illustration, London, 1950;
(3) Pseudo-Apuleius is the name given to the author of a 4th-century herbal known as Pseudo-Apuleius Herbarius or Herbarium Apuleii Platonici
(4) Dioscorides Pedanius (c. 40 – 90 AD) Greek physician, pharmacologist, botanist, Vindobonensis Medicus Graecus 1, better known as “Vienna Dioscorides,” the oldest and most valuable work in the history of botany and pharmacology. AD 512;
(5) Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (1452-1519) Italian Renaissance polymath;
(6) Popham, Arthur. E. (1889-1970) art historian, The Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci, London, 1946;
(7) Lowell, James Russell (1819-1891) An Indian Summer Reverie, 1846
(8) Evelyn, John (1620-1706) writer, gardener, diarist;
(9) Grigson, Geoffrey (1905-1985) anthologist and naturalist, The Englishman's Flora, London, 1955;
(10) Bock, Hieronymus (1498-1554) German botanist, physician, minister, Kreutterbuch, 1546;