Wednesday, 15th August 2012
'Kissing is out of season, when Gorse is out of bloom'.
'The wren, the wren, the king of all birds, St. Stephen's Day is caught in the Furze,'
'Beside yon straggling fence that skirts the way with blossomed Furze, unprofitably gay,'
These lines are just a sample of the lore and special place that gorse has in the hearts and minds of the ordinary people of Ireland throughout the centuries. Gorse, furze, whin – it has many names in English but only one in Irish, Aiteann; is truly the most ordinary of plants and one that many Waterford people see every day without even registering it. Two species of gorse grow in the county and their explosion of colour may be seen everywhere. These are the Common or European Gorse (Ulex europaeus) a tall, thorny and dense woody plant with stems and spikes of a bluish-green colour and with flowers of bright yellow. It can be found in heaths, pastures and stony places and is abundant in the south and east of Ireland but more local in the west where it is sometimes planted as a hedge or wind-break. No less than twenty-two places in Waterford are named after this plant (i.e. Cnoc
Bui – Knockboy). The so-called Autumn or Upland Gorse (Ulex gallii) is a much lower plant rarely exceeding 60cm (2 feet) high and is generally to be found on mountains and heaths, ascending higher then Common Gorse but still retaining the blue-green foliage and bright yellow flowers. It is also found in Waterford at some coastal locations such as on sea cliffs. This is common in many parts of the south and east of Ireland, scarce in the west and absent from the midlands. Upland Gorse is the most favoured nest site for our largest and endangered bird of prey, the Hen Harrier and several nestlings of this species have been ringed among this gorse in the general area of the Drum Hills near Dungarvan.
Gorse is not so much a plant as an essential way of life for hundreds of wildlife species. Common birds with a close association with gorse are Linnets, Stonechats, Redpolls, Yellowhammers, Twite and a scarce African migrant here, the Whinchat. Look at some gorse early one morning when the dew is still present and you will be unable to count the hundreds of cobwebs now visible on even a single bush. These bushes are the home of thousands of spiders that in turn eat thousands of other flying insects and in turn are eaten by birds and larger predatory insects. Be amazed at the amount of 'cuckoo spits' present and know that each will produce a Frog Hopper to eat the many aphids also present. In addition, the shelter afforded by gorse is very agreeable to less hardy plants and associated secondary growth often includes such wildflowers as Bluebells and Primroses early in the year and later, Knapweed and Ragworth. These are larval foodplants in their own right and attract such brightly coloured moths as the nocturnal blood-red Cinnabar and the day-flying red and black Burnet and other moths. In turn, these are then exploited by Owls and Bats. The flowers of the gorse also provide food for Hover Flies and Butterflies and Swallows and Martins may often be seen overflying gorse while hawking this insect life. Many of these insects and some birds use the dense gorse as an overnight roost and insects in particular use it for sunning themselves in the mornings to allow the blood in their wings to thin enough so that they can fly. Butterflies first seen each day are often basking on gorse and these include the Gatekeeper, Common Blue, the migrant Red Admiral and Painted Lady, the Small Heath, Meadow Browns, many Whites and the Small Copper.
With this concentration of wildlife on or near these plants, the burning or eradication of even a single bush usually results in the total destruction of a complete wildlife community at a time when many of the species mentioned above are already under severe pressure from habitat destruction.
Letters to the Editor
- A Government Successread more »
Once in a blue moon. As rare as hen's teeth. A Government success. Each of those three sentences are as unusual and as rare as each other. But the last one seems to be about to take place. The Government has announced that it plans to give each child in the State a second year of free pre-school. It might not sound like earth shattering news but if it does happen then it could be one of the most significant things that this Government has done since it took office. Any money that is given over to education is a …
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