This branch of science has nothing whatsoever to do with bats but concerns an altogether pricklier topic – brambles. They are not popular plants with many of us because they scratch, trip you up, have tenacious roots and spread to become rampant thickets seemingly in no time. But think again. This group of semi-woody rambling almost evergreen sub-shrubs, for that is what it is – an aggregate rather than a single species – is extraordinarily important for wildlife and a very successful botanical taxon, able to colonise all sorts of ground, from inhospitable waste places to deep shade under trees.
Brambles are largely apomictic, that is they reproduce asexually such that hundreds of microspecies, each retaining the genetic characteristics down the generations, have evolved. This multitude of microspecies allows advantageous traits to be passed on unchanged through generations and is thought to compensate for the loss of the evolutionary advantages inherent in sexual reproduction. It is found in many other genera, hawthorns, whitebeams, dandelions, and several grasses being examples.
Edwin Lees (1800–1887), founder of the Worcestershire Naturalists’ Club in 1847, was an eminent botanist and a famous batologist. If you look carefully at this rare portrait of him, you can see a bramble sprig in his buttonhole (arrowed). This was a microspecies named after him as Rubus leesii, but, like the original portrait, it has not survived in modern batological nomenclature as far as I know, at least not prominently.
So next time you trip over a bramble or scratch yourself on one, spare a thought for this highly successful and valuable group of plants that provides food, shelter and nesting sites for so much wildlife and is such a joy in late summer for children of all ages and amateurs of jams and pies.