From the beginning of this weekend until the end of the next weekend is Heritage Week here in Ireland, so there is plenty on. The emphasis is often a little too much on cultural heritage, so make sure you experience some natural heritage yourself. This month is a great time to see nature, and at the moment butterflies are putting on magnificent displays in the gardens all around Wicklow. To help beginners with identifications and to showcase the creatures themselves, here’s a little video showing you just what’s out there, or even in your garden:
Of all of our months, April brings with it the most spectacular changes to the Wicklow landscape, so I’ve decided to showcase the changes so nobody can be in any doubt. This April was very sunny, dry and warm with very few ‘April showers’, until these last few days. Firstly, in the towns, villages and gardens, we had the cherry trees blossoming.
Now, under cold breezes and rain of the last few days these blossoms are beginning to fall like snow flakes. However, some are only now starting to blossom properly. However, while the streets were and are lined with these beautiful trees the surrounding Wicklow hills steadily turned bright yellow as the jungles of Furze bushes also blossomed. Their flowers filled the mountain air with the scent of vanilla. They will continue to blossom for some time, and have another less-spectacular blossoming in the summer.
Meanwhile, along the laneways and roadways of the Wicklow countryside the fleshy Alexanders have grown tall and putting a subtle fragrance on the spring air which can only be found in springtime. These plants die off in June and should be treated with respect as they are so vital to pollinating insects so early in the year.
These plants grow on the roadside verges in front of the hedges, but in the hedges the wild Blackthorn trees have their white blossoms right now. They don’t really have a scent, but the blossoms are associated with ancient pagan fertility rites, and in recent times girls making their first Holy Communions would wear little tiaras of blackthorn blossom on their heads. The blossoms are very tough compared to cherry blossoms and don’t break easily.
Behind the hedgerows, in the fields, you have a good chance of seeing the great spring blooming of dandelions. These much-maligned wildflowers (not ‘weeds’) consitute entire eco-systems in their own right, and they are also edible and considered extremely good for cleansing the liver of impurities, which is why they should be eaten in moderation. They are the favourite flowers of many bee species, particularly the tiny Nomada cuckoo bees.
And then in the gardens the orchard trees are also blossoming. The Pear trees went first, as usual, and most have already lost the blossoms, which have been shorn from the trees by rain and dispersed by wind. But this is what they looked like at their height only just over a week ago –
Finally, in many of the older gardens and escaped into nearby hedgerows, you will find dense shrubs of Flowering Currant. Every spring they turn red due to their scented hanging blossoms. These flowers are loved by almost all species of bee and hoverfly, not to mention human beings.
And that’s just the blossoms and flowers making their presence felt in April. May will bring with it a whole area of blossoming trees and wild flowers . Every tree and flower has its moment in Wicklow.
We have a spectacularly sunny April this year, although the weather is soon to change. One side-effect of our clear skies has been very chilly nights, more like you would find in winter. And due to these chilly nights there have been relatively few moths about, but there are some hardy ones worth looking out for near windows at night. One of the larger spring moths, resembling a butterfly, is the Early Thorn – Selenia dentaria.
Early Thorns do show up early in the year, from about March to May, but a second generation can appear in late summer and Autumn, although I personally have never seen one at this time of year. Strangely enough the spring generation look different to the autumn generation and could be mistaken for different species. Another handsome moth to look out for is the Shoulder Stripe (Anticlea badiata) which is on the wing only for March and April and spends most of its life as a caterpillar.
One of my favourite moths is the funny-looking Common Plume (Emmelina monodactyla) which has the bizarre habit of appearing mostly in colder months, between autumn and late spring. Most people find them on walls, but they are handsome fliers, looking somewhat fairy-like, especially in flash-lit photos.