Slicing through the undergrowth.
This gallery grew from a conversation about who has the most annoying undergrowth. We may not be the winners, but we are a very strong contender. Plants like the pine tree can be uncomfortable or prickly to brush up against, but I'm not interested in anything so mild. This gallery is about plants that really hurt. Welcome to pain.
- There are a few related trees such as the white and black thorns, but the hawthorn is by far the most common. It is generally planted by council workers who do not know any better, to cover up a mess they have made by damaging a hedgerow.
- The hawthorn is used because it grows very quickly, and is often found growing wild or in hedgerows. Unfortunately, it also has many thorns that grow on branches at eye height, and often give facial scratches to anyone who is not paying enough attention.
- The thorns are fairly long and sharp, and are extremely painful when accidentally trodden on. They are sharp enough to pass through the thin sole of a shoe, and enough of the foot inside it. They are also very unpopular among cyclists, as they are a common cause of punctures.
- Brambles are the most common undergrowth in Britain, and are also one of the most annoying. They often grow in large bushes, and some are a good source of blackberries in spring. They are an excellent source of thorns all year round.
- Most brambles serve no purpose except to get in the way of anyone unlucky enough to find them in their path. They often run unseen through grass, and bar the way through forests, tripping and scratching walkers.
- The size of the thorns may vary, but most are enough to leave bloody scratches if they come into contact with skin. They are also very sharp, and fairly strong, and can pass through most clothing. Cloth will often rip or snag when trying to free the bramble.
- Smaller thorns will often break off the stem, and remain attached to the clothing, to be located next time you move or sit down, with obvious results. Well shaped thorns can stick beautifully in cloth without being possible to brush off or remove easily.
- One of the most common undergrowth plants is the stinging nettle. These can range between a couple of metres tall down to just a few centimetres, hidden amongst the grass. In many places, they grow in large blankets. Sometimes used in herbal teas, nettles have a painful sting, and the smaller the nettle, the more powerful the sting. Gently touching or brushing against a nettle can be enough to cause painful blistering rashes that can last for a few days, and it is possible to be stung through thin clothing. Unlike poison ivy (which does not grow over here), the stinging nettle's sting is instant, leaving you in no doubt that it was a bad idea.
- Often referred to as a stinging plant, the thistle just has very sharp thorns. The plants range from 3 metre tall monsters to small versions that hide among the grass. These smaller versions are usually located when taking a rest while walking, or having a picnic.
- Although the thistle thorns can be very painful (as with this blessed thistle), and can quite easily pass through most clothing, the pain subsides almost immediately once the thorn is removed, and rarely break the skin. However, they do sometimes break off, remaining as a splinter, and can be hard to remove.
- An example of the tallest Scotch thistles. The ones shown here are over 2 metres tall, and are strong enough to support my bike while taking the picture. Accidentally walking through a group of the smaller versions can be a memorably uncomfortable experience.
- Very common in hedges, the gorse bush.
- Gorse is made up of very long thorns, and although they are not particularly strong, they make up for it in numbers. You never, ever want to walk (or scrabble) through a gorse hedge.
- Gorse can grow very tall, sometimes several metres. The ground around them is often covered in fallen thorns, which are a very common cause of bike punctures.
- The gorse bush is beautifully decorated with bright yellow flowers. Beauty can be deceptive.
- Most commonly found as bushes, holly sometimes grows as trees. For the few days of christmas where its berries and leaves play their part in the festivities, they make up for it the rest of the year.
- The holly leaf is nicely coloured, but the edges of each leaf are tipped with multiple hardened spikes. Although not usually enough to draw blood, they will pass through most clothing, and make brushing past them very uncomfortable.
- Best known for its flowers (that supposedly are valuable, but actually have very little scent, and fall apart when you touch them - quite useless), the rose bush spends most of its life doing very little except taking up space.
- Occasionally found growing wild, people intentionally plant these in their gardens. Why they would want to plant a messy pile of thorns is beyond me.
- Another intentionally planted plant, the berberis has beautifully coloured foliage.
- It also has soft thorns on the branches. Near to the main stem, these become dry and hard, and are perfect for inadvertently punishing children who think it would be fun to play underneath them.
- Not quite in the right gallery, but lastly we have this harmless looking plant; poison hemlock. It contains a fairly powerful neurotoxin, and has frequently been used in the past as a poison. There are many other poisonous plants growing wild here, such as deadly nightshade and henbane, as well as other mildly poisonous plants such as foxgloves (digitalis). Another day, another gallery. Perhaps.
- I will leave you with one final picture; a fairly typical view of British undergrowth.