Robin’s Pincushions on Wild Roses

The ability of life to survive in the harshest of climates is remarkable. We’re walking at 1,500m above sea level and winters here at Rocca Calascio must be bitterly cold. I can just see a wild rose bush at the top of the hill where there is a rocky outcrop.

Wild Roses - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

It is hidden behind the exposed limestone on a beautiful day.

Wild Roses - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Looking across the valley I can see red bushes all the way along the path. They are covered in rose-hips. The hips are the rose’s way of getting its seeds dispersed by providing a tasty meal for birds; or at least it would be if birds had a well developed sense of taste:

Wild Roses - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

On one of the rose bushes I can see a strange growth which I suspect is a gall. Galls are a plant’s reaction to having an attack by insects living within them. There are many species of small wasps which have grubs which develop within plants and which provoke a huge reaction from their host. When I say many I mean 380 different species in Europe.

In this case it’s the Rose Gall Wasp Diplolepis rosae which has produced these Rose Bedeguar Galls, also known as Robin’s Pincushions.

Robin's Pincushions on Wild Roses - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Scientists have yet to discover the details of the chemical response which causes such identical intricate reactions when a gall wasp lays its eggs inside the rose.

The Rose Gall Wasp is interesting because they are nearly always female and often reproduce without a male at all. They are only 3mm long and easier to identify by their galls than they are from a specimen of the wasp itself. The grubs will be safe inside the rose all winter.

The name Bedeguar is from Persian for ‘wind-brought’ and the Robin of Robin’s Pincushion is Robin Goodfellow, a mischievous sprite. Robin is the source of all the mischief in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Both are romantic tales and I’m tempted to think that it wasn’t the wind and it wasn’t Robin Goodfellow’s mischief that made these galls, it was a tiny wasp. It did come on the wind though and it did make mischief so maybe there’s some truth in these stories after all.

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