Rubus: Fairytales and a Shared Seattle Nemesis

Adrienne Domingus
6 min readNov 29, 2022

When Sleeping Beauty, also known as Little Briar-Rose fell into an enchanted sleep on her fifteenth birthday, having pricked her finger on the foreordained spindle, a “thorn hedge” grew around the castle to protect her from the princes who heard of her beauty and, nevermind that she was unconscious, tried to force their way into the castle to see her. Alas, they couldn’t make it into the castle grounds, because “the thorns held firmly together, as though they had hands, and the young men became stuck in them, could not free themselves, and died miserably.”

Briar and bramble are both used to describe thickets of thorny bushes. They do evoke something of fairy tales for me, or of some long-past agrarian utopia that almost certainly never actually existed except in the minds of modern city-dwellers, but that would viscerally repel them were they ever to encounter it. Leaving behind the whimsey, bramble is another word for plants in the Rubus genus (part of the rose family, making the name “Briar-Rose” redundant). They are indeed thorny, some varieties viciously so. As in fairy tales, so too in the real world: whether the thorns help or harm depends on your perspective.

Were I Sleeping Beauty, I’d have been pleased to have a thorny thicket surrounding me and protecting me from princes intent on forcing their way in to see me while in a cursed sleep, and so too must the brambles be pleased by the protection offered by their own thorns — to live another day. Birds and bees, small enough to flit through what looks impenetrable to an adult human, also find protection here. The princes on the other hand, were probably none too pleased by their sharp and painful deaths, and nor am I when assaulted by the vines while working in the yard. Though I’ve never felt in mortal danger, more than once I’ve gone outside on a lunch break, become distracted by a patch of bramble, and gone back to work with a new cut on my cheek or my ear, grateful that I work from home and can put my camera on the other side during my next video call, my coworkers none the wiser.

Most people are familiar with rubus even if they don’t know it: raspberries and blackberries are commonly known examples. In the Pacific Northwest, there are a handful of ubiquitous rubus plants: blackberries, including the native trailing or Pacific…