Field day for dandelions as wild flowers get early start

 

WILD FLOWERS in the southwest are out in abundance, weeks earlier than usual.

Irish spurge, the poacher’s old reliable for trapping salmon in these parts, is fully grown.

Banks of the blue heath violet, not normally seen until the end of the month, crowd the lower ditches. And, for once, the cuckoo-flower coincides with the coming of the cuckoo.

Known also as “lady’s smock” because of its smock-like appearance, thousands of the tall pink-mauve cuckoo-flowers are grown and open to the sun on waysides and meadows.

Stitchwort, seen where old oaks once grew, is making a fine showing and the white wood sorrel is plentiful in woodlands.

The seasonal primrose is also out with the daffodils, which have flowered late this year.

However, nationwide, it is the yellow dandelion (known for its diuretic properties and commonly called “pissy-beds”) which is most spectacular.

The dandelion is truly dancing at the cross roads, according to the botanist and co-author of The Wildflowers of Ireland, Declan Doogue. “The dandelions are having a ball this year, particularly on roadsides,” he said. He suspected the heaping of snow on road margins had helped the distinctive yellow flower, of which there are 150 species.

Ireland has a number of rare species of dandelions, one of which was discovered seven years ago by botanists on a field study from the Czech Republic, Mr Doogue added.

The “physical weight” of the snow delayed the grass, giving the dandelions a head start: the seed laid down last year had the place to themselves.

Generally, though, in recent years the order of appearance has been “messed around” quite a bit, Mr Doogue said.

He urged people to return to “phenology”, the art of recording the appearances of plants to establish patterns.

“It’s very important for the future to put down records now,” he said.

Paul Maher, curator of the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, Dublin, said: “Everything is two to three weeks early, not only the wildflowers.”

Staff at the Botanic Gardens keep a close watch. One species of flowering currant was a full three weeks ahead of schedule, Mr Maher said.

He attributed the early flowering to the coldest winter in living memory in many parts, followed by a sudden increase in temperatures.

The Botanic Gardens has a comprehensive website offering information on plants and

species, including endangered plants and floral history, at www.botanicgardens.ie