Tag Archives: botany

Dandelion Explosion!

This year we have had a very cold spring, and most plants and wildflowers are way behind their normal growth levels, but yet again the humble and resilient Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) has saved the day.

Dandelions can flower all year, but in April they absolutely explode into blooming and our environment and our food depends on the fact that the massive amounts of pollen produced by the dandelion blooming sustain vital pollinating insects at a time that would otherwise be a crisis for them, and then result in a crisis for us. In fact, I believe we should have a dandelion festival every year to celebrate this most important of all spring wildflowers. This is my video dedicated to the dandelion:

Above is one of our rarest pollinators, the Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva) and this species also depends heavily on the dandelion for pollen, especially as this bee emerges in late March and flies mostly in April, and to a lesser degree in May, before dying off by early June and not being seen again until the following spring.

However, big bumblebees depend on them too, like this huge Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris).  Let’s celebrate the dandelions.  They deserve it.

St. Brigid’s Day

I know what you’re wondering – where have I been for the month of January? I’ll tell you – sick with the worst dose of flu I’ve had in 22 years! But I’m almost over it.

According to Irish tradition the first day of February, which is St. Brigid’s Day, is the beginning of spring. And, considering that the term ‘spring’ refers to the ‘springing forth’ of plantlife, then it is usually pretty accurate. However, this year, despite a good cold January and a very cold and blustery first day of spring, has seen very early plant growth – the earliest I’ve ever seen. Daffodils rose out of the ground in late December and I saw my first daffodil blooms last weekend!

   And this is not an early type of daffodil. However, the crocuses beat the daffodils to it, just.

The crocus above was the first crocus bloom I saw this year, and it appeared las week during a short bout of freakishly warm weather which lasted four days. But the Early Crocuses I usually rely on as the definitive announcement of the arrival of spring have not risen yet, let alone bloomed, so maybe they think we still could get snow. However, other spring plants, usually much later than daffodils and crocuses, have already made an appearance. Check these out:

They are, of course, snowdrops, which are usually the earliest bloomers of the spring plants, although they are technically more winter flowers. However, in snowy areas they usually signal the end of carpeting snowfalls. What is really strange is how quickly these much less hardy plants have jumped out of the ground:

These are the relatively delicate leaves of Lords-and-Ladies, aka Cuckoo-pint, aka Arum Lily (Arum maculatum) which normally break out of the ground in February but don’t unfurl their leaves like this until March at the earliest, yet here they are. And here’s something more impressive:

Believe it or not, these are bluebells! I have never seen them appear out of the ground quite so early, and looking so robust. However, there are also insects astir, including this extremely early moth, the Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria):

The male is a stocky moth, shown here, and the female is wingless. This species is around from January until March, so it’s not exactly early. To make things interesting there are two varieties of this species. Both have silky ‘silver screen’ underwings.

The Feast of Samhain and Wildflowers in Autumn

The Thursday before last (28 October) Zoe Devlin had her latest book launch and I was invited along to Hodges Figgis on Dawson Street in Dublin for the wonderful event. Colin Stafford-Johnson, the globe-trotting Irish BBC wildlife cameraman and film-maker opened the proceedings, and I was also fortunate enough too to meet Richard Nairn who has published many books about Irish wildlife. And here are all three of them:

From left to right: Richard Nairn, Colin Stafford-Johnson and Zoe Devlin.

Personally I have found Zoe’s book ( Blooming Marvellous – A Wildflower Hunter’s Year) is making me pay much more attention to flowers in autumn than I ever would have normally. And I’ve found some very beautiful flowers are still blooming, such as this tiny and magnificent Ivy-leaved Toadflax (Cymalaria muralis) which lives in rocky places, including on footpaths, where I found this one:

   Tuesday was Halloween, the eve of All Hallows, aka All Saints Day, and Halloween is also the ancient feast of Samhain. According to Irish myth and legend an evil spirit, a sort of serpentine creature, was unleashed on the feast, and the ancient Irish would light bonfires and make loud noises in an attempt to scare the creature away. It was eventually done away with by the heroic Finn MacCumhail (or McCool if you prefer). As with many ancient feasts and religious rituals, Samhain refused to disappear and to this day bonfires are lit and loud noises are created (using fireworks) to scare away the monster and all other evil beings from dark places who might walk the land in the dark half of the year. Because of Christianity Ireland has attempted to ignore Samhain, which has absolutely no effect on it, and as a result most of October is filled with the noise of fireworks and the building of illegal bonfires. If an attempt was made to engage with the feast, rather than trying to subdue it,  much less anti-social behaviour and illegal bonfire-related activity would occur, as there would be an outlet for the activities and a point of focus. It’s part of Irish culture, from very ancient, pre-Christian times, and it seems this ritual has no intention of coming to an end, being hardwired into the Irish psyche. Let us not forget that Samhain is the Gaelic name for the month of November. But it is a very frightening time of year for animals, both domestic and wild. And for many people too. However, it is over for another year.