Nature on our doorsteps: Fruitful Hedgerows
Rosaleen Dwyer is the County Heritage Officer at South Dublin County Council – every week she gives us an insight into the natural heritage around us and the beautiful biodiversity of the plants and creatures
‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ is how the poet John Keats described autumn. It has indeed been a productive season and our hedgerows are laden with wild fruit.
While we enjoy the delicious jams and drinks made from blackberries, elderberries, crab apples, sloes and rosehips, there is a much more fundamental process in action.
Plants expend a lot of energy producing flowers to form seeds that will be spread as far away as possible.
One way to ensure this seed dispersal is to cover the unappetising seeds in a tasty fruit, enticing birds and animals (including us) to come and eat.
Digestion in the gut releases vitamins from the flesh of the fruit and we benefit greatly from those.
Most seeds have a strong protective coating however, so they pass through unharmed by the digestive process.
Seeds are then excreted, far away from the parent plant, in a ready-made pile of ‘compost’, ready for spring.
For particularly hard seeds like blackberry pips, the passage through the bird or animal’s gut is actually necessary in order to facilitate germination.
For these, the harsh action of digestive enzymes erodes the seed’s tough coating so that, once excreted, air and water can enter into the seed more easily to start the germination process.