Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Something Wicked this Way Comes

If Ray Bradbury had really wanted to frighten readers of his early novel,
Something Wicked this Way Comes,  he would have had his protagonists
tangle with a greenbrier vine instead of a sinister carney named Mr. Dark.

There is nothing more ubiquitous in this part of the Shire than the native greenbrier vine.
According to Mark Czarnota of the University of Georgia,
greenbrier, genus smilax, is also known as catbrier or cat sawbrier.
I wondered about the inclusion of "cat" in the name.
I didn't really get the connection until I read what
Will Cook of Duke University said about it. 
Cook says  it's sometimes called catbrier
because the plant scratches the unwary like a cat's sharp claws.

So true, speaking from my experience with unruly cats and with greenbrier.
The difference is greenbrier hides its claws well.
Who would guess these lovely masses of green would hide
such wicked talons?

And woe is he who gets snagged by one of greenbrier's many thorny barbs.
Good luck will be needed to get them untangled from one's clothing.
Without heavy gloves or a willing companion wearing heavy gloves,
one can find himself  in quite a predicament.
And once greenbrier infiltrates a desirable plant,
separating the two presents an even pricklier challenge.

It would be tempting to consider the greenbrier more Hyde than Jekyll,
but appearances deceive.
Greenbrier leaves are a wild edible.
In fact, the greenbrier is an important plant for balancing the ecosystem.
According to this website by Fairfax County Public Schools,
there is a lot to appreciate about greenbrier.

Among other bits of useful information,
 the Fairfax site says that greenbrier thickets are an effective cover
for wildlife and nesting birds.

Rabbits, deer, and beaver lunch on the leaves.
And the site says the berries are eaten by everything from wild turkeys
to song birds to raccoons and possums.

So the next time I see greenbrier growing,
I may be less inclined to yank it from the ground
now that I know it's not purely a Mr. Dark or a Mr. Hyde.
Sometimes, even unruly cats can purr sweetly.

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