rose, irish

Not so wild Irish rose.

Vacations are for traveling and relaxing, seeing new lands and experiencing cultures other than our own. I did just that this summer on a trip to Ireland visiting the entire coastal perimeter of the country. I am a plant person at heart, so of course I was enamored with the plant life I saw, touched, and even ate and drank. The golden barley in the fields was to become an important ingredient in the Irish Guinness beer brewed in Dublin. We took a tour of the brewery to learn how the fruit of the hops plant and the grain of the barley are turned into the well-loved stout beer.

Guiness

Keeping the husband happy.

Along the coastal route we traveled, we did not see many vegetable farms as they were located more inland where there were better growing conditions and soil. We did see many fields with sheep and cows. Beef and dairy cows were often feeding in fields not used for hay.

cows

Often large fields would have a lone, ancient tree standing within its boundaries, and could be any species that happened to take root on the spot. Our tour guide told us those trees are known as fairy trees which house the fairies of Ireland. Fairies in Ireland are not nice and cutesy like we Americans think of them. In Ireland fairies are tricky beings, and can bring havoc and bad will to those who disturb them. For this reason, farmers will leave a large tree in the middle of his field, even driving around it when seeding and growing crops, avoiding tilling up the area so as not to disturb or offend the fairies residing under it. The superstitions are handed down with the generations, and many stories of them may be found in bookstores on the local legends.

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Fairy Tree

fairy tree, seems a little magical

Magical Fairy Tree. Can you see the fairies?

We passed peat bogs which are wetlands covered in accumulated dead plant material and mosses. Peat takes centuries to form under the acidic and anaerobic conditions. Layers of peat were traditionally cut out of the bog, left to dry and then used a fuel source to burn inside fireplaces to heat homes. Now a day, modern heating is used in Ireland, and bog management laws limits on the amount of peat harvested. Peat moss used in gardens is also harvested from bogs. Since it takes centuries to form, it is not really a very good renewable resource.

 

In windswept, boggy meadows along the seaside were plants that looked like cotton blowing in the wind. It is called bog cotton, Eriophorum angustifolium, a grass-like sedge plant with fluffy seed heads. Each seed is attached to a fluff of hairs/bristles that can catch the wind to be carried far away. Great method of seed dispersal created over eons to ensure the survival of the species.

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Bog Cotton

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Bog Cotton seed head.

Heather grew wild among the rocky areas and tolerated the harsh, windy climate well. It was low growing among the native grasses providing a subtle lavender color to the fields.

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Heather field

 

Foxglove is a native weed just about everywhere in Ireland. Its purple nodding bells arising from waste areas and rock walls. Called Fairy Thimbles in folklore, they are deemed unlucky if you bring them into the house in case you let a naughty fairy into the home. Foxgloves are biennial, with second year plants blooming from June through August.

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Foxglove

I captured (with the camera), this cute little bee coming in for nectar on this non-wild foxglove in a tended garden.

Bee coming in for a landing, Ireland

While in Northern Ireland at Malin Head, I came across the most unusual hedge plant planted in multiple yards and outside several establishments. After asking a local or two, its identity was revealed as Hebe, a broad leaved evergreen plant with showy purple flowers in July and August. It is native to New Zealand and the folks I spoke with weren’t sure how it originally came to their town, but they share it readily with neighbors. Hebe is hardy there, but will not take temperatures below freezing. Even one exposure to a freeze and its top growth will die back. The stands of I saw were happily six feet tall and tolerating even this northern most town on the coast.

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Hebe flowers

 

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Hebe hedge

 

What would a visit to Ireland be without the mention of potatoes? Several museums and tour guides told the history of the Irish potato famine caused by the fungal disease of late blight, Phytophthora infestans, the same disease that infects tomatoes and can wipe out a crop. The English withheld all other food sources from the Catholic following Irish people unless they denounced their religion. Once the potato blight hit for several years, there was no food left resulting in mass deaths and migrations to other countries. Still today, the entire population of Ireland has not reached the numbers it had before the blight hit.

potato blight

 

At the end of our trip, we packed up our mementos of Irish lace and tweed caps along with the rich stories of Ireland. My memory cards are full, both the physical one in my camera, and the one in my head.

-Carol Quish, all photos copyrighted by CQuish

potatoes