Do you know where in Ireland you can find spring gentian, mountain avens and bloody cranesbill all growing happily together ?
Yes you guessed it, the Burren in County Clare, where 75% of the plants found in Ireland are represented in the flora in this spectacular landscape.
ORIGINS OF THE IRISH FLORA
Ireland has a comparatively small flora for a European country, partly this is due to the fact that it is not a large country, and geologically not very varied, but a major factor is that ice-sheets covered much of Ireland until 13,000 years ago.
The majority of our Wildflowers flora and fauna has only returned as the ice sheets retreated. By 10,000 years ago the climate had warmed up, and a land-bridge may have connected Wales and the east coast of Ireland – the sea levels being over 250 foot lower than they are today, since the water was frozen into the vast ice caps covering the rest of northern Asia and North America. Plants and animals were able to cross this land-bridge until about 7,500 years ago, when it was finally covered by the rising sea level. Most wildflowers growing in Ireland are also found in Britain and Northern Europe and over 800 of these species are native in Ireland.
VEGETATION OF IRELAND
Ireland owes its designation as The Emerald Isle to its mild winters and damp summers, which result in a year-round greenness. Despite the small area of woodland in the country many plants, which on the continent and even in Britain, are regarded as characteristic of woodland, are abundant in open country. This is especially so as one travels towards the west coast.
Today the bulk of Ireland’s semi-natural vegetation is made up of three major habitats: Grassland, Heath and Bog.
GRASSLAND and FOREST Without agricultural clearance, and the presence of grazing animals, small trees and shrubs invade grassland and turn it into scrub.
HEATH is a transitional community, which links the more upland types of grassland with the drier types of mountain blanket bog. It occurs on shallow, peaty soils, with a higher mineral content than true peat characteristic of bogs.
BOG or PEATLAND There are three major types of bog in Ireland; firstly Fens, which form where the bog is fed from ground waters rich in nutrients; raised bogs, which occupy the sites of former lake basins, and often form on top of fens, especially in the Irish midlands; and lastly blanket bogs, which cover mountain tops or sloping ground, especially on the west coast.
Fens are amongst the most threatened habitats in Ireland, being small and easily damaged. Some of our rarest flowering plants and bryophytes are confined to fens.
Raised bog is almost pure sphagnum moss with scattered grasses and sedges, and these are the bogs from which moss peat is extracted. Raised bogs probably began growing about 7,000 years ago. Country dwellers used to store butter below the surface of bogs, and examples of ‘bog-butter’ are still occasionally found.
Blanket bogs cover much of the hills and land along the west coast of Ireland. They are dominated by heathers, grasses and sedges as well as sphagnum moss. Blanket bogs only develop in areas of the west, or mountaintops, with particularly high rainfall (more than 1.3 metres per year).
75% of the plants found in Ireland are represented in the flora of the Burren in County Clare. This area is famous for the wildflowers found on its limestone pavements and Irish peat bogs are still some of the most extensive left in Europe.
Some of the rarer plants are protected under European Legislation, more under the 1999 Flora Protection Order. By leaving the plants in situ you are helping to protect the ecosystem, and leave it for others to appreciate. Hopefully if the plants are appreciated in their natural habitat they will still be there for future generations.
Among the many varied and beautiful flowers which have come to symbolise the Burren are spring gentian, mountain avens, shrubby cinquefoil and bloody cranesbill and, on the higher terraces, the hoary rock rose. These can all be found in the park flowering in the spring and summer months.
Some particularly noteworthy features of the flora wildflowers found in the Burren include the curious mixture of Arctic-Alpine and Mediterranean species, and calcicole (lime-loving) and calcifuge (lime-hating) species, as well as the wealth of orchids – 22 of Ireland’s 27 native orchid species are found in the region. The more interesting members of this rich flora are usually found on upland pastures, dominated by bare rock and thin, intermittent, rendzina soils, a highly stressful growing environment. A reflection of this is the very compact morphology or life form that many of these plants assume, and the high proportion of parasitic plants found among them.
So to see this flora and fauna for yourself why not join us on Jul 18 – 22 for 5-day Clare Guided Walk introducing you to a region of Ireland that is unique and often described as a “lunar” type landscape. Your Guide will introduce you to this amazing place, taking you first to the magnificent Cliffs of Moher, before whisking you into the heartland of the Burren & introducing you to island life on the Aran Islands. During your Walk & Talk holiday you will have the opportunity to see how an Irish Coffee is made, see why Aran sweaters have become world famous & visit some of the historical sights in this beautiful region.
For more details or email [email protected] for an itinerary.