SHRUBS BELONGING TO THE ROSE FAMILY — CHERRIES, BRAMBLES, ETC.
SEVERAL important and interesting members of the beautiful Rose family are always present in the mass of shrubbery bordering the country highways and byways, and these are best introduced in a comprehensive group which will aid us in tracing the general family resemblance.
I call the Rose family a beautiful one because it not only includes the queen of flowers, but the fruit trees, spirœas, brambles, whitethorns, shad bush, mountain ash, and Pyrus Japonica, nearly all of which bear exceedingly handsome blossoms and fruit.
The distinguishing points of the family are these: the leaves grow alternately on the branchlets; the flowers are regular — that is, they are uniform in structure; the petals and sepals are equal in number, usually there are five of each, and the innumerable unconnected stamens are a prominent feature in the general color and effect of the blossom. The Rose family is separated into three distinct divisions: these are the Almond or Plum, the Rose, and the Pear sub-families.
Belonging to the first subfamily (Plum) are a few very familiar roadside characters: the first of these is the common wild plum (Prunus Americana). Near some old farmhouse one is pretty sure to find this small tree in a neglected condition among the wild shrubbery. It bears its white flowers and dull-green leaves simultaneously in early spring; the orange-red translucent fruit, about the size of a large cherry, is ripe in early September. The skin is tough but the flavor is pleasant. The tree is scarcely fifteen feet high, and is picturesque to the last degree in either blossom or fruit; its thorny and scraggy character is quite in keeping with the air of desertion attached to the weather-stained lonely old house near by. On the road which winds about the southern slopes of Mt. Prospect, in the township of Holderness, N. H., there is just such a picturesque abandoned, farmhouse, with its cluster of wild plum trees near by, which is as beautiful in May as it is in late August. In blossom or in fruit the tree is always a striking subject for the artist’s pencil.
Beside the road not far from the sea a spreading shrub, usually two or three feet high, which bears fruit resembling the wild plum, is frequently seen; this is the beach plum (Prunus maritima). It is a straggling bush which flourishes in the sand of the seashore and bears dull-red, tough-skinned, sour fruit fit only for preserving. The white flowers appear before the leaves; these are thick, veiny, and sharply toothed when mature. Another species closely related to the beach plum is the dwarf or sand cherry (Prunus pumila). But this is generally found on sandy river banks, or in rocky, sandy places along the coast. The flowers are small and grow in clusters of from two to four; they appear just after the leaves, which are thick, light-colored beneath, shaped somewhat like willow leaves, and toothed near the apex. The fruit ripens in August, it is very dark red or black, about the size of a wild cherry, and sour or else insipid. This cherry is found as far West and South as Kansas and Virginia. It is quite common on the banks of the Pemigewasset and Merrimac Rivers, New Hampshire.
The most familiar shrub of our Northern roadsides is the common choke cherry (Prunus Virginiana). This is usually not over five feet high, although in some localities it attains the proportions of a good-sized tree. Its leaf is abruptly pointed, and it is usually broadest just beyond the middle; in other words, it is reverse egg-shaped; both leaf and branch when bruised are not very agreeably odorous. In early May its beautiful tassels of white flowers appear, and these in late July are succeeded by clusters of red berries almost as bright as currents; by the end of August the red has turned to black, and the cherries are ripe. If one does not mind having the mouth puckered so it becomes difficult to speak, I presume this fruit may be considered edible; but I prefer to leave it for the birds. I suppose tons of these berries are produced every season on the intervales and roadsides beneath the giant hills of New Hampshire; they cling to the bushes, too, until quite late in the fall; it is scarely strange, therefore, that one may find in midwinter among the mountains numbers of our common birds who evidently take the chances of freezing where food is so plentiful. The choke cherries tempt the birds to make a late stay in the autumn; then, when choke, black, and bird or red cherries are all gone, the red winter fruits, wintergreen and partridge berries, still remain scattered over the woodland floors and about the clearings, so the birds stay.
In the Adirondack woods also there is no end of food for the birds; here we will find the black alder (Ilex verticillata), smooth winterberry (Ilex lævigata), mountain holly (Nemopanthes fascicularis), partridge berry (Mitchella repens), wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), creeping snowberry (Chiogenes serpyllifolia), and bearberry (Arctostaphylos Uva-Ursi). These, and many other seeds and berries too numerous to mention, are plentifully scattered through the Northern forests and clearings, and as late as the end of winter there is still food enough left to keep bevies of birds from starvation. It should not be forgotten, too, that the birds relish the seeds of the coniferous trees, and when the forest floor is hidden with snow the pine-tree cones furnish small granaries for them.
The second subfamily (Rose) consists entirely of shrubs or herbs. It is an interesting division because it reveals several relatives of the queen of flowers not ordinarily recognized as such. The first of these is the beautiful meadowsweet (Spiræa salicifolia), which grows from two to three feet high, and adorns every roadside throughout June with its soft clusters of pinkish, flesh-colored flowers. It is a light-green, bushy shrub, with smooth stems and double-toothed leaves, which is readily distinguished from hardhack (Spiræa tomentosa), as the latter has a cottony stem and deep-pink flowers. Hardhack also has a pointed flower cluster, which gave rise to its other common name, steeple bush. The shrub called queen of the prairie (Spiræa lobata) is a species which is common on the meadows and prairies of the West; it is also cultivated. The handsome plumes of flowers are deep flesh-pink, and the leaves are compound — that is, the leaflets are arranged on either side of a single stem, like those of the sumach. This spiræa grows from two to five, or sometimes eight, feet high; the bruised foliage has the odor of sweet birch.
Two members of the Rose subfamily, which are very common indeed in the grassy levels between the shrubbery, are the wild cinquefoil (Potentilla Canadensis), a little yellow buttercup-shaped flower, with leaves like those of the strawberry (except that there are five instead of three leaflets), and the strawberry itself (Fragaria Virginiana); both are very plentiful on the green-bordered roads about Chesterfield, Mass.
Greylock from Chesterfield, Mass.
Next we come to the bramble tribe of the Rose subfamily, one of the most beautiful members of which is the purple-flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus). It has a handsome three-lobed leaf, not unlike that of the maple, and a crimson-pink blossom very similar to a wild rose; unfortunately, the flower at maturity turns a homely, pale magenta, but never purple. The fruit of this shrubby plant is like a flat raspberry, with little or no flavor; the long stems are hairy-bristly, not thorny.
The wild red raspberry (Rubus strigosus) is thickly distributed over the country from Labrador southward to New Jersey and the mountains of North Carolina, and westward to Minnesota and Missouri. It occupies the roadsides in some localities in New York and New England for miles together; and in many of the old pasture lands of the White Mountain region it grows so luxuriantly, together with the high-bush blackberry, that it forms almost impassable thickets. The thorny canes, however, are not nearly so murderous as those of the blackberry, and if one is not afraid of a few scratches, a day’s “raspberrying” in July, when the season is good, will result in a heaping eight-quart pail of fruit which, in my estimation, equals in flavor the cultivated and much-prized Cuthbert,1 of which our wild berry is the parent. I find that the birds, especially the sparrows, indigo buntings, yellowbirds, and chickadees, are especially fond of raspberries, and at no time can I enter a broad patch without stirring up a score or so of little fellows, who do not leave the spot until they have feasted to complete satiation.
Among the blossoms which afford the best-flavored honey for the bee, those of the raspberry rank higher than white clover. In the valley of the Hudson River, where raspberries are extensively cultivated, in early morning, during the period of blossoming, the whitened patches are fairly resonant with the hum of a million busy bees who leave everything else, even the earliest and the sweetest of the garden flowers, for the coveted sweets of the very ordinary-looking raspberry blossom. Not the sweetest flowers are always sought by the bee, far from it; for, although white clover and orange blossoms afford much honey, the trailing arbutus, with its delicate muscatel odor, is said by apiarists to be quite honeyless,2 while such strange flowers as catnip, mustard, hoarhound, melilot, and delphinium are good honey bearers. Of course, apple blossoms, and, in fact, all fruit-tree blossoms, are especially attractive to the bees, the crab apple in particular; but the flowers of the linden, red maple, sugar maple, elm, locust, yellowwood, and tulip trees are equally sought by the bees.
The black raspberry, sometimes called thimbleberry (Rubus occidentalis), is also frequently found beside the road. The leaflets are mostly in threes, whereas in the red raspberry they generally occur in fives; there is, besides, a characteristic bloom like that on a plum, which covers the canes and the smallest stems. The black raspberry is most common in its wild state northward.
Wild Red Raspberry.
The high blackberry (Rubus villosus) is another distinctive roadside character in the North. It grows from two to seven feet high, and is armed with recurved thorns stout enough to tear anything but a leathern suit into shreds. The blossoms are narrow-petaled, but large and white as well as beautiful; indeed, a full-flowered spray of blackberry is as picturesque a bit of roadside embroidery as one may well find. The berries themselves in their red and black aspects are inimitably decorative, and the strongly modeled, deep-veined, sharp-toothed leaves are as conventional in arrangement as anything of the leaf kind we can find in Nature.
The blackberry is well named, for it is the most obviously black thing in all the world of flowers and fruit. But is it truly black? So far as effect is concerned I must answer yes; but considering it in the light of principle I must answer no; for black hardly has an . existence in Nature! To prove this, crush the skin of a blackberry or the petal of a black pansy, and examine the juice under a magnifying glass; there is no black there, but color; and as we all know black is the absence of color the proof is conclusive.
The low blackberry, or dewberry (Rubus Canadensis), may be easily distinguished from the high blackberry by the following characteristics: It is vinelike, long-trailing, and only slightly prickly; it has from three to seven double-toothed leaflets, which are small and nearly, if not quite, smooth in texture, and it is commonest in rocky or sandy soil. The berry has also fewer grains, is more nearly round than that of the other species, and ripens earlier._______________________
1 I believe the Cuthbert is a cross between the foreign berry, called Antwerp, and our own Rubus strigosus. The Turner is also an improved form of R. strigosus.
2 Not in my opinion, however, as I am quite sure of having tasted the sweetness in the blossoms. I certainly have concurrent testimony from Mr. Clarence M. Weed, who records the fact that the ants, who are always wandering about in search of food, may often be seen trying to get at the nectar in the bottom of the arbutus blossoms. See Popular Science Monthly, May, 1894.