Ghost Bramble

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The canes of ghost bramble are an eerie pale-pink in cold weather.  When it comes to Winter interest, creepy is as good as gorgeous.  The canes cover themselves in a white powder, which is what makes their color so ghostly.  It's called a "bloom," and rubs off all too easily, exposing the bright raspberry color of the cane beneath.

 

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Ghost bramble is wild in habit not just in color.  After the sulphur-yellow leaves drop in the Fall, the writhing medusa of its fiercely-thorny canes is on display.

 

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Here's how to grow this unique white-caned blackberry:


Latin Name

Rubus cockburnianus 'Aureus'

Common Name

Ghost Bramble / Gold-leaved Blackberry

Family

Rosaceae, the Rose family.

What kind of plant is it?

Thorny cane-forming deciduous shrub.

Hardiness

Zones 5 - 9.

Habit

Upright canes soon arch over, rooting where they touch the ground.

Rate of Growth

Fast. 

Size in ten years

Size depends on maintenance choices.  See "How to handle it" below.  To six feet tall and, potentially, much much wider. 

Texture

Exciting.  In warm weather, brilliant gold leaves spangle the slender and wide-spreading canes.  In cold weather, the canes are leafless, ghostly, and skeletal.

Grown for

its foliage: The leaves are pinnate, with four paired leaflets and a singleton at the tip.  Their solid-yellow leaves are as bright as yellow foliage can be. 

 

its canes:  In warm weather, new canes are green with a white bloom on the surface, creating a pale white-green the color of cookie icing.  In cold weather, the white bloom remains but the canes themselves change from green to raspberry, creating a chilly and even clammy fleshlike color that's delightfully creepy and startling, like zombie flesh whose real blood has been switched to some kind of diabolical fluid.

 

its imperviousness to deer:  The canes are fearsomely thorny, and the leaves are prickly, too.  Grow as in "How to handle it" below, and there won't be any fruit, either.  In any event, the fruit is dry and not tempting.

Flowering season

Early Summer, but the flowers are not showy.  If you follow the suggestions in "How to handle it" below, there won't be any flowers, anyway.

Color combinations


The warm-weather foliage is uncompromising in its deep and vivid yellowness; the white-green of the canes is complementary but it's the foliage color that's dominant.  But in cold weather, the canes drop the foliage and take on a strong raspberry color overlaid with a powdery white bloom; the overall color of the shrub is now a completely unrelated hue of cold flesh.  Only neutral colors—green and brown and grey and white—would harmonize with ghost bramble year-round.  If you need to have additional colors nearby, let the cold-weather color harmonies and clashes handle themselves, and bring in additional colors that work with the chrome-yellow foliage.  More shades of yellow, then. 

Partner Plants


I myself have ghost bramble growing over and through a diversity of neighbors, but if there were any plant that would be in maximal contrast with architectural green hedging, it would be ghost bramble.  The hedge's color would harmonize with both of the shrub's summer-yellow and winter-pink colorings, while the hedge's blocky architecture would be a fascinating counterpoint to the bramble's wild and irregularly questing canes.

 

Ghost bramble would also be very effectively underplanted with evergreen groundcovers, the lower the better, because the shrub looks good from the ground-up.  Vinca, pachysandra, ivy:  All would be handsome. 

 

There's a practical benefit to growing ghost bramble as an isolated specimen:  The thorny canes are liable to scratch and even shred nearby foliage they aren't leathery broadleaves or impervious conifers.  True, what exciting visuals would result from growing the bramble in back of some darker-leaved hostas, over and onto which the bramble canes can dangle their sulphur-yellow leaves—but the bramble thorns would probably have torn the hosta leaves by the time the first gusty Summer storm had passed.

 

One seasonal flourish could be Spring bulbs, which could grow up through the evergreen groundcover at a time when the bramble is cut down in early Spring.  See "How to handle it" below.

Where to use it in your garden


Except for that one month in Spring when you've cut the old canes to the ground and the new ones are still small—see "How to handle it" below—ghost bramble is a startling and stunning plant all year.  Partnering it with clipped hedge and evergreen underplanting brings an expectation of focal importance that synergizes powerfully with the plant's inherent showiness.  Ghost bramble doesn't play second banana to anything, and looks out of place if it doesn't have center stage. 

Culture

Full sun to part shade, in almost any soil with good drainage. 

How to handle it:  The Basics

Ghost bramble is space-hungry; give it plenty of room.  Canes live only two seasons, but are not nearly as interesting the second season.  Instead, cut all the canes off, flush with the ground, in early Spring of their second year.  New canes will sprout that same Spring and, in turn, will all be cut to the ground the following Spring.

 

The first-year canes can grow very fast.  They arch upward, outward, and then downward, scrambling atop and through any adjacent plants.  If they touch ground, they root at the tip.  When you cut off that cane in the Spring, cut it off a foot or two above the rooted tip, too.  Either transplant the tip back into the heart of the colony or pot it up for a Spring plant sale.  Ghost bramble is still rare in the United States, so it should be in high demand.

 

The display of Winter canes is exciting, and is even better if you go over the colony in Fall and snip off any side branches that have died or gotten broken.  Try not to handle or brush against the remaining canes, whose white bloom can be easily rubbed off.  

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

None.

Quirks or special cases

None.

Downsides

Ghost bramble is amazingly thorny; you'll need to wear leather gloves to handle it.  It's a great plant to work on when the weather's cold: then you'll be wearing a shirt with heavy long sleeves, or even a coat, plus rough-and-ready work pants.  Fortunately, the big annual pruning is in early Spring.  It will still be plenty chilly out, and your arms and legs will still be thickly covered by the very clothing that will protect you from the raking jabs and scrapes of the thorny canes. 

Variants

There are many raspberry and blackberry relatives that are highly ornamental.  I've already raved about Rubus henryi, R. szechuanensis, R. ursinus 'Variegatus', and R. idaeus 'Aureus', and there are four or five that still await.  Ornamental raspberries range from groundcovering shrublets to impressively-tall colony formers to lengthy scramblers so long they behave just like vines.  The foliage can be variously dark green, light green, bright gold, or green-but-silver-backed, ranging in size from lacy little doilies to plate-sized wonders.  Only occasionally are the flowers showy; depending on the species, they're either white or pink.  Stems and even thorns can be colorful, too; only a few varieties are entirely thornless.  Berries are usually small and dry.

Availability

On-line and, only occasionally, at "destination" nurseries.

Propagation

By layering in Summer and separating the rooted section the following Spring; by division in Spring.  

Native habitat

Rubus cockburnianus is native to China, and was introduced to Britain in 1907.   

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