World Wetlands Day: A West Cork Bog Soak

In honour of World Wetlands Day, which we celebrate on Feb 2 every year, here is a selection of beautiful, weird and wonderful native plants from one small bog soak in West Cork.

Bogs are unique environments, highly acidic and with low nutrients. Nevertheless, some plants have adapted to thrive in them. It’s important we safeguard these diminishing natural habitats.

We Welcome the Hope That They Bring

Sea Campion

The flowers that bloom in the spring, Tra la,

Breathe promise of merry sunshine —

As we merrily dance and we sing, Tra la,

We welcome the hope that they bring, Tra la,

Of a summer of roses and wine,

Of a summer of roses and wine.

And that’s what we mean when we say that a thing

Is welcome as flowers that bloom in the spring.*

We’re officially in spring now. Throughout April (an unusually dry one) our West Cork fields and boreens have been greening and sprouting. Every day on our walks we welcome old friends to the hedgebanks, or discover new ones.

The photographs in this post were all taken in April. Above is Bitter Vetch, and below is a fern unfolding – a particularly fascinating process, almost mathematical.

The quintessential flower that we all look forward to at this time of year is, of course, the bluebell. How it cheers the spirits when you spot the first one, and then begin to see them carpet the floor in shady places or old graveyards, or even climbing up along the hedgebanks, so that you are walking between blue walls.

They mix so beautifully too, with the bright yellows of first the celandine, and then later the buttercup, the white of the wild garlic, or the intense bright green of spurge.

About that wild garlic – in the post for March wildflowers I wrote that what we mostly have around here is the non-native three-cornered garlic. I have been on the hunt for our native species, called Ramsons and I finally spotted a huge patch, growing right along the main road between Skibbereen and Ballydehob, at the gates of New Court (I wrote about New Court in my post about belvederes). Robert pulled over, at great jeopardy to life and limb as it’s a busy corner, and out I leapt with my camera.

But what was this? Every leaf was covered in bird droppings – every single one! I realised that there is a rookery in the trees above: perhaps it is this that provides the fertiliser for the garlic. I certainly didn’t linger to explore further, as I could hear the gregarious cawing overhead. I’m still on the hunt for a clean patch!

It seems to be a very good year for Cuckooflower, also known as Lady’s Smock. Interestingly, the colour of the petals vary from almost white to a delicate purple, depending on the composition of the soil and other aspects of the habitat. Up to this year I had seen isolated examples of Cuckooflower (so called because their arrival coincided with that of the cuckoo) but this year there were Cuckooflower “blooms” in many fields. At first, you’d think they were just daisies, but once your eye was attuned to their shape, they seemed to be everywhere. This is great, as it’s an important larval food source for the Orange-Tip Butterfly – it lays its eggs on the underneath of the petals.

If March belongs to the Blackthorn, in April the Hawthorn (sometimes called Whitethorn around here, and May Tree elsewhere) gradually moves in and takes over. Suddenly the hedges are full of green trees loaded with showy white blossoms (the opposite of the Blackthorn, in which the blossoms come first and are over by the time the trees green up).

I found my first Thrift, or Sea Pinks, last month, but it’s in April that they become commonplace around the coast. I was delighted to find a patch down by the Ilen River at the very beginning of their blooming, and could see the stages they go through on their journey to the delightful pink flowers we all love.

At the very beginning of the month I was fortunate to participate in a walk with Éanna Ní Lámhna, well-known naturalist and a frequent speaker on topics related to wildlife on Irish radio and television. It was a great experience, as she spoke mostly about trees, about which I know little.

In the course of our marvellous walk I also observed several spurges, including this very rare example of a wood spurge. You just never know what you’ll find – this one was right outside a kindergarten!

There’s an exciting announcement about West Cork wildflowers coming soon! Stay tuned to this blog and all shall be revealed… Meanwhile, a few more flowers of April…

I featured Scarlet Pimpernel last month – this is his cousin, Yellow Pimpernel. On the right is Bilberry

Wavy Bittercress, found along the shore, consorting with thrift. On the right is Common Milkwort :it has a tiny white flower emerging from a deep blue one

Stream Water-crowfoot: at first I thought this was a weed choking a stream, but closer inspection revealed these lovely flowers

We’re not the only ones enjoying the bluebells

*OK, I know it dates me. It’s from The Mikado, by Gilbert and Sullivan

Mizen in Bloom


hawthorn or whitethorn

Hawthorn or whitethorn

They say that spring is a little late this year – the result of the winter storms, which caused so much destruction and set back growth. Many shrubs and trees around us looked stripped and burned from a combination of ferocious winds and salt spray. Even the gorse is slow: although some of it is in full bloom, the hillsides are not yet ablaze with that incredible yellow.

Gorse and hawthorn

Gorse and hawthorn

But now around the Mizen the spring flowers have burst into bloom. The boreens are heady with wild garlic. It’s become a thing to cook with it. One of my favourite young Irish chefs, Donal Skehan, has a recipe for wild garlic pesto and another for wild garlic soda bread. Haven’t tried it myself yet, but it’s definitely on the list.

Wild garlic

Wild garlic

I have serious bluebell wood envy. There is one near here, and I dream of eventually having my carpet of blue under the trees. Here’s a little bluebell slideshow: most of the photos were taken close to our house, but a couple are from Wicklow (Bray Head and Mount Usher Gardens), and the last one shows my brand new bluebells coming up from the bulbs I planted last autumn.

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The hedgerows are striking right now. Above are the white branches of the hawthorn (also known as whitethorn), gorgeous in their bountiful white blossoms, and below are the roadside flowers – celandines, buttercups, daisies, violas and primroses.

wayside flowers

Wayside flowers

Along the shore hardier species are showing themselves now. Sea pinks, or thrift, are waving in the breeze. Today we found one that Robert has always called pennypies, but which is more properly called navelwort. It’s a fascinating looking plant – and good, apparently, for curing corns!

There are lots I can’t name, so can you help me out, Dear Reader, and tell me what these flowers are?

Can you name these flowers?

Can you name these flowers?

I can’t resist one final photo – no, it’s not a wild flower, but it holds the promise of delicious things to come. These are the blossoms on our pear trees.

Pear blossoms

Pear blossoms