What do we know of our wild flowers?
Everyone enjoys the spring wood anemones in the Wicklow forests, the long-flowering sea thrift on so many of our rocks, the field scabious lining the roads of the central plain in July. And we know that there is a botanist's treasure trove in the Burren, on the west Clare coast. Sometimes our know ledge goes little further. But when we learn more we find that Ireland is full of wild flowers, many of them rare and beautiful. To understand their special character we must go hack a little in time.
The ice that long ago covered Ireland. Britain and northern Europe is believed to have killed most of the then native flora. When the ice retreated plants from southern Europe started a north ward invasion. At this time both Ireland and Britain were joined to the Continent, but only a fraction of the European flora was able to reach Ireland before our landmass broke away into the Atlantic. Because of this some well-known wild flowers native to Britain have never grown in Ireland. Britain in its turn was soon separated from the Continent and has a less rich flora than continental countries.
Though Irish wild flowers are comparatively few in variety, they are well spread around the country and have not yet been wiped out by high-powered agriculture, or plundered by collectors. Those near the West coast are the more interesting. There the rainy mild climate helps plants to grow luxuriantly in the rocky unshaded fields, and some lovely and unexpected ones have survived far from their normal range. Because of the warm winters of West Cork and Kerry plants thrive there which cannot grow in Britain, and yet we find them again in Spain, Portugal and south-west France. Farther up the coast, in west Clare are large numbers of Arctic-Alpine plants, thriving in the bleak exposure of the Burren, and often growing uncharacteristically down to sea-level. There are even a few North American plants; how these reached Ireland is a mystery.
This booklet selects forty-two plants from the Irish flora. In the first part are flowers to be found all over the country, and I have chosen just a few from each environment or `habitat'. So there are five or six plants from woodlands, the seaside, moors, marshes and fields: where possible their general location has also been given.
In the second part are some of' the plants of special interest, plants which surprise the botanist and grow abundantly in our warm Western climate, the Kerry butterwort and saxifrages, the Clare gentians and mountain avens, the Connemara heather and pipewort. All these can he found easily, can be admired, drawn or photographed but they are rare so should on no account be picked. The Burren plants, like those in Kerry, have a sudden and seemingly miraculous flowering time for three or four weeks from the middle of May. In Connemara July and August are the best months to see the typical heathers and water plants.
Both English and Latin names have been given for the plants. English names are easier to remember but are not always definitely established; yel low pimpernel is sometimes called wood pimpernel for example. Latin names are botanically accurate and necessary for identification.