Are Brambles (Blackberry Bushes) Carnivorous?

Are Brambles (Blackberry Bushes) Carnivorous?

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By definition, carnivorous plants or insectivorous plants are plants that kill and trap other animals in efforts to derive some or most of their bodily nutrients by using their very own enzymes or bacteria in order to digest them.  While brambles or blackberry bushes have some of these characteristics, the question is do brambles have all of the necessary characteristics to be labeled as a carnivorous plant?

Brambles or blackberry bushes cannot be considered a carnivorous plant as they do not have all of the necessary characteristics of a carnivorous plant, or rather don’t have the ability to exude enzymes or bacteria in order to derive nutrients from their prey.

Meaning, brambles do not have all of the necessary characteristics of a carnivorous plant but there is something in their character which makes them a curious case. Although they are not exactly carnivorous plants we can call them protocarnivorous plants. Keep on reading to find out what a protocarnivorous plant is and what makes brambles or blackberry bushes a protocarnivorous plant.

Are brambles and blackberries the same thing?

Brambles and blackberries come from the same genus Rubus, the bramble is Rubus Vulgaris while the blackberry is Rubus Fruiticosus meaning that brambles and blackberries are the very same thing.

While they are one and the same, what is the difference between the two?

Blackberries are an edible fruit which is produced by the genus Rubus, mentioned beforehand, from the family of Rosaceae.

Brambles are described as a rough, tangled, and prickly shrub that grows blackberries, raspberries, or dewberries, so basically, brambles describe the plant out of which the fruit of blackberries grows.

This means that whether you decide to call them brambles or blackberries, you cannot really go wrong but if you can, stick to the right terminology.

To repeat once more, when referring to the bush which produces the fruit, brambles is the right terminology. When you are referring to the aggregate fruit which is composed out of small drupelets, blackberry is the right terminology.

Also keep in mind that, although called berries, in a botanical sense, blackberries are not considered berries.

Are brambles (blackberry bushes) carnivorous?

By that definition, a carnivorous plant is any plant that has evolved its carnivory and adapted to capturing and digesting small animals or insects in efforts to derive nutrients from them. The emphasis is, however, on their very own ability to exude enzymes or bacteria in order to decompose the prey for the purpose of easier digestion.

To be classified as a true carnivorous the plant has to have all of the following characteristics.

Carnivorous characteristics:

1. Be able to attract prey

Being able to attract prey is the very first vital characteristic that sets everything else in motion. Although plants could wait for their prey to come, that leaves them with no guarantee of constant nutrition so true carnivorous plants have evolved mechanisms to attract prey.

For example, Pitfall plants attract plants in an effort to lure them into the pit from which they can no longer successfully escape. Their way of attracting prey is with nectar secreted at their openings or they can attract prey with their bright flowers and flower-like patterning.

The openings where the plants attract the prey are typically covered in a wax-like coating which causes the insects to slip into the pit. Once they are trapped within the pit, the plant starts exuding digestive enzymes which help dissolve the prey into a form that is easily absorbable for the plant. This is only one of the ways carnivorous plants attract and kill prey for digestion.

2. Have a trapping mechanism

Trapping mechanisms are divided into five basic mechanisms within the carnivorous plants.

Pitfall Traps or pitcher plants trap prey by luring them into a pit from which they cannot escape and are then digested with the help of plant’s digestive enzymes and bacteria.

Flypaper traps trap prey with the help of sticky mucilage or a glue-like texture they exude. They utilize it through secreting glands – which can be either short, long, and mobile, and trap their prey by making it stick to the surface of the secretion after which the prey is digested with the help of the plant’s digestive enzymes and bacteria.

Snap traps trap prey by the mouse and bear-like trap which with its rapid movement traps the prey within the two traps. The rapid movement is triggered by the sensitive hair on the leaf lobes. Currently, there are two species of flytraps – the Venus flytrap and the waterwheel plant. The digestion of the prey occurs over a period of one to two weeks.

Lobster-pot traps trap prey by forcing it to move towards the plant’s digestive system by using its inward-pointing hairs. The inward-pointing hairs make the chamber easy to enter but difficult to get out and so the prey is forced to move in a particular direction and eventually trapped within the digestive system.

Bladder traps trap prey by generating a partial vacuum inside the bladder of the plant which basically sucks in the prey, makes it impossible for it to escape and as with other carnivorous plants, it gets digested with the help of enzymes and bacteria.

3. Be able to kill prey and derive nutrients by itself

The main characteristic of carnivorous plants is their ability to kill their prey and derive nutrients from its carcass through a process of chemical breakdown. The nutrients are then absorbed by the plant in an effort to enable their survival.

Carnivorous plants have evolved nine times in five different orders of flowering plants. There are close to 600 species classified with the characteristics of attracting, trapping, and killing prey all in an effort to absorb any available nutrients from the prey.

As brambles or blackberry bushes do not have the ability to impact the decomposition of the prey on their very own, they cannot be considered carnivorous plants.

Although they cannot be considered fully carnivorous plants, brambles share few of the characteristics of carnivorous plants which makes them protocarnivorous plants.

Protocarnivorous plants

There are over 300 protocarnivorous plant species that are showing some of the characteristics of carnivorous plants.

Protocarnivorous plants, or also commonly referred to as paracarnivorous, subcarnivorous, or borderline carnivores, have some of the carnivorous characteristics attributed. Some are able to trap and kill the prey but lack the ability to derive and digest nutrients from their prey by themselves, as a carnivorous plant always can.

To be a fully carnivorous plant, the plant must exhibit all of the characteristics mentioned beforehand, whereas to be a protocarnivorous plant, the plant can exhibit only one of the characteristics – attraction, trapping, or absorbing of the prey.

What brambles or blackberry bushes have are thorns that help capture animals such as sheep. However, those thorns are not considered to be a trapping mechanism for the purpose of killing or incapacitating prey for the purpose of utilizing their nutrients but they are rather considered a defense mechanism in order to encourage herbivores to avoid it.

It gets a little bit more complicated when you take a look at the thorns of blackberry bushes. Unlike other plants with the same defensive mechanism of thorns, blackberry pushes do not have upright or straight thorns but rather have thorns that look like backward-facing hooks.

Backward-facing thorns draw the prey towards the middle of the bush where they can only get more tangled up and as they struggle they can only get more caught up within the thorns. As the prey struggles and gets to the point of absolute exhaustion it eventually dies and the brambles or blackberry bush does get its nutrients.

Despite this, brambles lack digestive enzymes for breaking down the nutrients and rather rely on symbiotic relationships with bacteria or insects for the part of absorbing the prey. It is a very important characteristic that the blackberry bushes are not responsible for the decomposition of the prey.

To conclude, let’s review the characteristics of bramble and a carnivorous plant.

Characteristics of bramble and a carnivorous plant:

1. Being able to attract prey

Brambles or blackberry bushes produce the fruit of blackberries which can be used to attract prey but the question remains whether brambles evolved in a way that the blackberries were produced with the purpose of attracting prey.

2. Have a trapping mechanism

As we said before, it is debatable whether blackberry bushes evolved their thorns to backward-facing hooks in order to trap prey after attracting it or if it’s just a defense mechanism in order to warn off herbivores. Also, brambles would have a hard time trapping any animal which does not have thick wool or fur in which the animal can get tangled up – which leads to a conclusion that its thorns are rather a defensive mechanism.

3. Being able to kill prey

As they use the help from their surroundings in order to derive nutrients, brambles are not necessarily responsible for killing the prey and they surely are not responsible for decomposing it.

By lacking this characteristic of absorbing the prey, brambles cannot be considered a carnivorous plant.

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