Field of Science

Thorny and terrifying memories

The knock-out roses were an exception; they grew, and grew, well last year.  They look best when periodically cut back anyways, but this is not one of TPP's favorite gardening chores.  It conjures up some painful memories. In some minor way this is like the opening scene of Apocalypse Now where Martin Sheen awakens in a bad way to discover that his nightmare of hearing helicopter blades whumping the air were actually the blades of a ceiling fan, but it didn't matter because he was back in Saigon anyways.  So you lop off a two foot section of the rose bush, and you try to throw the branch to the side, but it's thorns cling to your gloves.  You try to get a new grip, but now the branch has reached over your shoulder and grabbed your shirt, and no matter which way to pull, you still are getting grabbed by your shirt sleeve. So it goes, branch after branch, thorns tugging at your clothes and ripping any exposed skin.  Then the memories come flooding back of rattan palms in the dim understory of Queensland's rain forests.  These palms climb by means of grappling hooks, recurved spines on three sides of long, whip-like modified shoots
 with the tensile strength of piano wire, and they extend across your path as if waiting to garrot the next field biologist who happens along.  There were three species of three different sizes that TPP fondly named "rip your ankle off", "rip your leg off", and "rip you head off".  As soon as you were grappled, you had to stop, immediately, reach around with a pair of pruning shears, and cut the shoot.  With the tension relieved it would usually fall off; just never try to pull away.  This gets tricky when grabbed from different sides all at once.  Locally they are called "lawyer canes" because once they get their hooks into you, .....   With the ravages of the rattans, field gear just got shreaded.  You just keep on working, branch by branch, shrub by shrub, until the bloody roses are pruned.  Then you get a margarita to help the scary memories subside.  Maybe the roses won't grow so well this year; maybe the next pruning won't be so bad.  Maybe the war won't so be horrible this tour.  And the nightmares start again.

5 comments:

JaneB said...

...which is why I don't have roses.

Anonymous said...

How about Smilax? If you haven't had the pleasure of cleaning up a neglected garden that has been infiltrated with the dreaded cat briar you've missed some mighty nice thorny stuff.

The Phytophactor said...

Smilax? No question it's a nasty bit of thorny business, but no worse than the roses. Not in the same league with the rattans.

William Connolley said...

Functionally, what are the thorns on roses? I'd sort-of assumed they were some sort of defense, but are they actually for climbing?

The Phytophactor said...

Thorns such as the big ones on roses usually function to thwart big browsers like deer. However thorns certainly do help "viney" types of roses climb. Adaptations need not have just one function.