Walking in a winter wetland forest, in the eastern U.S. my eyes are drawn to green leafless vines growing along the edge of the trail. Numerous spiky thorns protrude from the green stems and small clusters of bluish-black berries dangle in the light breeze. It is the nasty catbriar.
Its thorns remind me of a foray into a wetland area to look for wild orchids one summer’s day. The entrance to the area was covered by a tanglement of catbriar vines that were intertwined so densely that it was impenetrable to everything except small birds. I tried to walk around it, but my shirt became snagged on one of the thorny vines. As I pulled away it tore holes in the garment. Then I accidently stepped on another prickly vine that grabbed my pants. When I pried myself from that vine, it reached out and scratched my arm.
Some plants protect themselves with foul odors, others are distasteful, but catbriar’s thorns will keep away any creature that wants to eat it. Even though I find this plant to be worthless to me, it is important to the environment. Its berries are food for wintering birds and the entanglements of its vines provide cover for small birds and protected places for birds to nest.
My mind returns to now and to avoid coming into contact with this scratchy plant I stay on the opposite side or the trail when suddenly something rubs against my pant legs. It is more briar. Ugh!!!