Friday, January 25, 2013

Thorns, Briers, and Brambles

Sometimes dense forest or ground cover leads you right into briars, brambles, and thorns of every shape and size you could imagine.  I seem to have mastered the art of getting stuck by these plants.

Like Velcro, some of these plants cling on for a ride of their life.  They slow me down, prick me, poke me, and frustrate me.

Here is a list of sorts of some of the plants that cling to my skin and clothes while walking in the woods to camera trap and hike.

Green brier.

One of the eastern United States’ most unforgiving briers.  This vine has the ability to grow high and hard.  Some other briers and brambles break or fall when you walk across them, but this one does not.  It secures itself with very hard, woody, green stems and thorns.

You can’t just walk past this one in hopes of “bushwhacking” through it.  Forget about a quick walk in the woods if you get entangled in a few feet of this.  What you might have thought would be a quick weekend outing, is now a challenge full of pricks.  If you’ve never had this experience,  try to compare it to getting a few thumbtacks embedded in your calves for a few seconds.

Multiflora rose.

One of the most beautiful flowering plants around but it packs a punch to your unprotected legs. It is a woody rose plant that grows all over.  Walking through this stuff without 7 pairs of wool socks, boots, 9 pairs of jeans, and 10 pairs of long underwear will get you into some outdoor prickly trouble.  Stay away!

Raspberry and Wineberry

“A fantastic edible plant with prickly consequences” is how I like to describe the raspberry plant to park visitors.  It can grow many stems and shoots that are full of hard spines (growing to around 7mm) and hair-like spines that are only a few millimeters long and are much softer.

The wineberry plant is usually red with some greens mixed in on its leaves and some stems. This is considered only a type of raspberry as it is in the genus, Rubus, that raspberries are also classified under.  Wineberry is easily confused with raspberry (a mistake that even I have made) but they both have nasty prick producing spines.

The raspberry plant is actually greener than wineberry and has spines that are less hair-like.
When walking through a plot of these in the woods, I tend to trek through at a fast pace so that they might brush past my clothes.  This plant painfully resembles modern-day Velcro but with a slightly sharper side-effect.

American Holly. 

This is not a hard one to spot or get out of, but still harbors some nasty spines.  American holly, one of America’s native trees and a symbol of Christmas traditions all over the world, can pack an unpredictable prick.

It’s delightful green leaves stick out like a sore thumb in the wintertime here in Virginia but even so, I somehow find myself amidst its prickly leaves a few times month.


An invasive species to Virginia that reminds me of American holly.  In the places I hike and camera trap, it usually grows a few woody stems straight up a few feet.  These stems are extremely tough to the touch and contain small branches with many leathery leaves.

The leaves are similar to American holly in that they are evergreen, leathery, and have spines lining the leaf.  Its leaves are a dark green color and will prick you if you try to step to the side of it, around it, or over it.  Cut its woody stems open, and you will be greeted with a fluorescent yellow color that a highlighter has a tough time competing with.

Autumn Olive.

This one is a real pest to everyone around.  It is not native at all to anywhere in Virginia but has established itself as one of the rest.  It is an invasive species that grows as a tree-like shrub, having many stems shooting upwards and eventually sideways.  It is a beautiful silver with silver-green leaves though.  Even though it may look pretty and provides great cover for birds, it is one of my most hated plants.

Autumn olive grows extremely dense in some parts of the woods that I camera trap in.  It goes up my jeans and in its later stages of live, grows centimeter long thorns around its many shoots.  The thorns have bark that very irritating to my skin and after a week of getting pricked by them, I can still feel exactly where they punctured me.

**A personal thanks to fellow park employee, Julie for catching an earlier mistake I made regarding raspberry vs. wineberry identification.  She has provided me with a lot of wildlife information and I can't wait to learn even more!


  1. Multiflora rose= THE WORST.

    Also, is Mahonia AKA Oregon Grape Holly? I think I learned it with that name last semester...scientific name: Mahonia aquifolium

    1. Yeah that's it. The birds eat the seeds and spread it all over where I live. I've been cutting a bunch of it down before the seeds come out fully so we have at least a little bit less in the local parks I work at. I should have added sci. names to the plants I posted. Oh well!

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