The Burren 2016 is finally blooming after an uncommonly cold spring. The region is considered to be of true international importance for its Arctic, Alpine and Mediterranean flower admixture. The mystique lies in the melange.
I have picked out an example of a plant from all three regions and profiled them briefly as below. The three species are blooming at the time of writing. I also strongly recommend a pocket book which is indispensable when botanizing in the region.
Bain súp as! Enjoy!
SPRING GENTIAN/GENTIANA VERNA/CEADARLACH BEALTAINE
A small member of the gentian family with the stem measuring only a few centimetres. The name derives from King Genthios of Illyria who was credited with discovering the herbal properties of the plant. The king reigned a couple of centuries before Christ and Illyria was a kingdom in today’s western Balkans.
The gentian is an astonishing metallic-blue colour. It is the symbol of the Burren region and flowers from April to early June. The flower is Alpine and is quite rare in the north of Europe. Teesdale is the only region in Great Britain where it grows. I ireland, the Gentian can only be found in a few scattered limestone localities in the west.
Spring Gentian is associated with mountainous limestone regions of central Europe and parts of Asia.
In the Burren, it is one of the montane plants which also grows at sea level. Moreover, it co-mingles in the region with orchids from the Mediterranean basin. This cold/warm climate plant melange makes the Burren a significant botanical region at a world level.
IRISH ORCHID/NEOTINEA MACULATA/MAGAIRLIN GLAS
Orchids are one of the largest wild plant communities. More than 25 thousand species have been identified. The grand total of 56 species can be found in Ireland and Great Britain. The small Burren region (200 square miles) is home to an impressive 24 of the British and Irish species.
Most of the Burren orchids flower in May and June. The Early Purple Orchid/Orchis Mascula and the Irish Orchid are the first to bloom. The Irish orchid is also known as the Dense-Flowered Orchid. It is a small orchid with densely-packed and cream-coloured flowers.
The plant has an astonishing geographical distribution. In the north of Europe, it only grows in a few limestone localities in the west of Ireland. The orchid otherwise grows further south in the world in regions such as the Mediterranean and North Africa. Its range also extends east as far as the Ukraine.
Irish Orchid is known as a Lusitanian flower – part of a tiny group of Mediterranean plants native to Ireland but absent from Great Britain. Lusitania is the Latin name of a former Iberian Roman colony which corresponds to most of modern day Portugal and part of Spain. The Burren is the only region in the world where the Irish Orchid and Spring Gentian grow together!
MOUNTAIN AVENS/DRYAS OCTOPETALA/LEAITHIN
Mountain Avens is a member of the rose family. It is an Arctic plant which occurs in montane regions in the northern hemisphere. It is called Dryas Octopetala in Latin. The octopetala part of the name is explained by the fact that most specimens have 8 petals. As the leaves are oak-like, dryas also features in name. There is a poached egg look about the flower. It is the national emblem of Iceland.
The rootstock is quite woody and some define the plant as a shrub. The Burren uplands were treeless in the 19th century due to immense pressure on the land by a large and desperate population. In fact the pressure was so great that the rootstock of the Avens was being harvested for fuel for the fire. It must have been very labour-intensive and desperate work… all also in the context of a potato famine (1845-49) which ravaged the region. Mountain Avens, just like Spring Gentian, grows enigmatically at sea level in the Burren.
© Text by Tony Kirby / Images by Carsten Krieger