Tag Archives: Spring

Flower Power in April

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.

A typical cherry tree in blossom against a bright blue sky.
A typical cherry tree in blossom against a bright blue sky.
Beautiful pink blossoms, but some cherry blossoms are white.
Beautiful pink blossoms, but some cherry blossoms are white.

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.

Furze or Gorse blooming bright yellow over the evergreen spiny leaves of this painful plant, much-loved by nesting birds.
Furze or Gorse blooming bright yellow over the evergreen spiny leaves of this painful plant, much-loved by nesting birds.The blossoms are very popular with bees, particularly Honey Bees.

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.

Spring just wouldn't be spring without these roadside umbellifers. When the Alexanders die off they will be replaced by the hairy rough-stemmed Hogweed.
Spring just wouldn’t be spring without these roadside umbellifers. When the Alexanders die off they will be replaced by the hairy rough-stemmed Hogweed. In this photo you can see another spring flower, the yellow-flowered Lesser Celandine, growing alongside.

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.

The Blackthorn is famous for its extremely strong black branches, which are still made into walking sticks, and were used in stick-fighting by Irish men up until the late 19th century (and currently being revived as a sport and martial art in some areas), but the blossom was actually considered sacred and magical to the ancient Irish, and was an especially potent religious emblem up until recent decades.
The Blackthorn is famous for its extremely strong black branches, which are still made into walking sticks, and were used in stick-fighting by Irish men up until the late 19th century (and currently being revived as a sport and martial art in some areas), but the blossom was actually considered sacred and magical to the ancient Irish, and was an especially potent religious emblem up until recent decades.

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.

A sea of Dandelions in a field, and in the hedgerow behind you can see a mighty white blossoming of Blackthorn.
A sea of Dandelions in a field, and in the hedgerow behind you can see a mighty white blossoming of Blackthorn.

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 –

Fresh pear blossoms in an orchard. Each blossom could potentially become an actual pear fruit, but in actuality only a small fraction do so because there are so few insects about capable of pollintaing these trees at this time of year.
Fresh pear blossoms in an orchard. Each blossom could potentially become an actual pear fruit, but in actuality only a small fraction do so because there are so few insects about capable of pollintaing these trees at this time of year. Pear blossom has a strange scent, almost like the fruit when it is cut, but more fragrant.
The height of the pear blossoming. Sadly these flowers last only a little over a week in even the most favourable conditions, as we had this April.
The height of the pear blossoming. Sadly these flowers last only a little over a week in even the most favourable conditions, as we had this April.

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.

Flowering Currant on a bright sunny day. This year they had an exceptional blossoming. Make sure to stop and smell them.
Flowering Currant on a bright sunny day. This year they had an exceptional blossoming. Make sure to stop and smell them.

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.

A Hedgehog Wakes from Hibernation

A couple of days ago I was standing by the backdoor to my house when I heard a snuffling and crackling sound coming from a small hedge of Vinca. I immediately suspected a Hedgehog was moving about in the undergrowth. However, it never showed up. Two days later I heard the same sound again and this time I investigated properly. The sounds seemed to be coming from beneath one of last year’s hanging baskets, still full of earth. The hanging basket and a huge black pot had been left behind the hedge on a bank of earth. I moved the basket and found, on a ledge beneath the edge of the  bank, and hemmed in by dense stems, a Hedgehog in a nest of dried leaves. Here is the video I got of the sleepy creature, a small Hedgehog –

Butterfly Season

Well, it’s late in the evening of 31 March and it has been a mostly dry but quite cold March, and tomorrow is the beginning of butterfly season, which is when naturalists all around Ireland begin systematically recording butterflies as part of the National Biodiversity Data Centre’s Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. I have seen few so far, but my first was a Small Tortoiseshell, which I nearly stepped on as it basked in bright sunshine on Sunday, 8 March. It was almost certainly one from last year which had awoken from hibernation.  However, I saw and photographed my second butterfly on 19 March, and it was a newly hatched-out Speckled Wood, which is our most common species.

Not exactly an award-winning photo, but my first of a butterfly this year nonetheless, and a Speckled Wood at that, perched on a polythene tunnel.
Not exactly an award-winning photo, but my first of a butterfly this year nonetheless, and a Speckled Wood at that, perched on a polythene tunnel.

The following day I photographed my second moth of the year, a small handsome March Dagger – Diurnea fagella - a species which also flies in April.

A March Dagger moth.
A March Dagger moth.

And only in the last few days did I see two of the usual suspects flying about the garden, a Small Tortoiseshell which had almost certainly awoken from hibernation, and more surprisingly, a Red Admiral, which probably also was a newly-awakened hibernator, but which had ripped hindwings suggesting it had been pursued by hungry birds which had nipped at its wings.

A very handsome-looking Small Tortoiseshell sunbathing in bright sunlight.
A very handsome-looking Small Tortoiseshell sunbathing in bright sunlight.
A Red Admiral, slightly the worse for wear, but enjoying the bright spring sunshine.
A Red Admiral, slightly the worse for wear, but enjoying the bright spring sunshine.

So far there have been all too few butterflies and moths, but April will see many species waking up, hatching out and taking wing.