On the hunt for Grass-of-Parnassus

On the 13/07/2014 we set off to Murvagh in Co. Donegal (VC H34), after being informed that one of my all time favourite plants was growing there. Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia palustris) is a truly amazing spectacle, aesthetically the plant is a absolute triumph, but is relatively understated until you get up close and personal. If (more likely when) you look at the plant closely you’ll notice that there is a lot going on, however it’s not “loud” or “busy”, it’s very much a subtle beauty, gentle and delicate.

Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia palustris) - Oisín Duffy
Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia palustris)

But that’s enough of the poetic talking, P. palustris is also part of the Irish Species Project run by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI). The general purpose of the project is to examine the distribution of some of the scarcer wild plants in Ireland and P. palustris happens to be one of them. While searching/recording wildflowers might sound slightly odd to some people, it has a very rich history in both Britain and Ireland. Not only is it a very fun learning experience, but it’s also important as it allows for a greater understanding of the species you’re recording.

We arrived to an already quite packed carpark (Murvagh is a bit of a hot-spot for beach goers and the like), but we were not there to soak up sun or walk barefoot down the sand. We were there for one reason, to record plants (and anything else that catches my eye, usually bumblebees, butterflies and moths, on this front Murvagh was perfect), so we started walking along the well worn paths and in between the rough Marram grass. Some nice usual suspects started appearing from very early on Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum), Wild Thyme (Thymus polytrichus)  and the beautiful Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia).

SAM_0328
Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia)

Then on a cleared area of woodland, with old cut trees which were beginning to rot we found the wonderful Common Twayblade (Neottia ovata). This plant was absolutely everywhere, to the point that one really had to be careful where you placed your foot. One of the things I enjoy so much about botany (and recording in general) is that there is so much to learn and observe. For instance, this was my first time seeing Common Twayblade (in person, I’ve seen it in books/online etc tonnes of the times and that made identification much handier) and that’s a rather special thing, because seeing something in the flesh for the first time, you get a sense of how early botanists and naturalists much have felt when discovering a new species. It’s moments like this when you’re starting that really give you the encouragement and inspiration to learn more and actively search for species.

Common Twayblade (Neottia ovata) - Oisín Duffy
Common Twayblade (Neottia ovata)

Nestled nicely beside an abundant clump of N. ovata  was the plant which we had been searching for, P. palustris. Once we found it, we started to see more, small clumps of the flower were dotted around area, some of which were fully out and some which were only emerging.

Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia palustris) - Oisín Duffy
Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia palustris)

After recording the surrounding plants and making any other notes that we had to (along with more than a few photographs), we set back to the car park and decided to scan further south of the area. Orchids again started to appear, along with 6-spot Burnets Moths and Dark Green Fritillaries. Then  only about a few hundred metres from where a large group had set up camp for the weekend there was another glorious display by P. palustris. This site was in a different grid square, so again we started recording the surrounding area and I got another opportunity to have a photography session with the plant.

The day was a complete success, not only did I find my favourite plant, but we also found it in two separate grid square and I had the privilege of photographing and learning a few new species.

 

For more information about the BSBI – 

http://www.bsbi.org.uk/ireland.html

http://www.bsbi.org.uk/

For more from me –
https://twitter.com/OshDuffy
(For a little bit of everything regarding ecology, mainly plants,pollinators, plant and animal interactions, conservation issues).
https://twitter.com/GBGproject (Twitter page for Galway Botanic Garden, focusing mainly on native flora)
https://www.facebook.com/fearglas (Similar to my twitter, only with more than 140 characters and more images)
https://www.facebook.com/GalwayBotanicGarden (Facebook page for Galway Botanica Garden, focusing mainly on our native flora).

Bumblebee Identification Part 2 –

Bombus terrestris vs Bombus lucorum –

Bombus terrestris (Queen) – (Also known as the buff-tailed bumblebee) is a large bumblebee and can be commonly seen in a variety of habitats, gardens, hedgerows, meadows etc. Queens can be seen quite early in the year and may also be seen during the winter (which is unusual for bees). The species has two dark yellow/orange bands, one on the thorax and one on the abdomen, the species (as the name suggests) has a buff coloured tail. The tail colour can vary from an almost orange to a “dirty” or off-white colour.

B. terrestris Queen

Bombus lucorum (Queen) – (Also known as the white-tailed bumblebee) is a large bumblebee and similar to B. terrestris can be found in most habitats. The species has two lemon yellow bands, one on the thorax and one on the abdomen. The tail colour (again, the name is a giveaway) is white. B. lucorum has a characteristic “clean” white tail, which is very distinctive.

B. terrestris-lucorumfdfdf

Both B. terrestris and B. lucorum are quite similar and this can cause confusion when trying to identify the species. While the bands of both species are different colours (dark yellow/orange – lemon yellow respectively) the tail colour is generally the most noticeable difference between the two. This approach is suitable for determining the identity of Queens.

The workers of B. terrestris and B. lucorum are a different story altogether and cannot be told apart in the field (DNA Analysis is required). If being recorded these workers should be listed as Bombus lucorum aggregate (B. lucorum agg).

B agg

Links –

http://apps.biodiversityireland.ie/BeesBrowser/speciesinfo.php?TaxonId=55975

http://apps.biodiversityireland.ie/BeesBrowser/speciesinfo.php?TaxonId=55973

Bumblebee Identification Part 1 –

Bumblebees – Oisín Duffy

Ireland has 20 native species of bumblebee, but like most things some are rare or have restricted ranges and are not commonly seen.  The most commonly encountered species are Bombus lucorum, Bombus terrestris, Bombus Pascuorum, Bombus Hortorum, Bombus Jonellus. Depending on your location you may also see Bombus Muscorum. Bombus lapidarius is more common in the south of the country and is listed as vulnerable in the Irish bee Red List.

Bumblebee identification can seem daunting to begin with, but like most things it gets easier with time. Thankfully you can take a systematic approach to their identification. This will generally start with tail colour, moving on to the number of bands on the thorax or abdomen.
The three species we will be discussing in this post are B. pascuorum, B. muscorum and B. lapidarius.

B. pascuorum (also known as the common carder bee) is Ireland’s most commonly seen bumblebee species and is found across a wide range of habitats, including hedgerows, grasslands, meadows and even gardens. The species has a distinctive ginger thorax, which is flanked by white hairs, both brown and black hairs are found on the abdomen.

B. pascuroum – Notice the ginger thorax, surrounded by the white hairs. Dark hairs are also present on the abdomen.
B. pascuroum – Notice the ginger thorax, surrounded by the white hairs. Dark hairs are also present on the abdomen.

B. muscorum (also known as the large carder bee) is found in large open, flower rich habitats, generally found in sand dune systems. Both B. muscorum and B. pascuorum have a ginger coloured thorax and this can sometimes cause confusion when trying to identify individuals. B. muscorum has blond hairs flanking its thorax, which distinguishes it from the white flanked thorax of B. pascuroum. The colour of the hairs flanking the thorax in B. muscorum gives the species a very blond appearance. This species has a “Near Threatened” conservation status in Ireland.

B. muscorum – Notice the ginger thorax, surrounded by blond hairs. The abdomen is a distinctive blond colour with no black hairs
B. muscorum – Notice the ginger thorax, surrounded by blond hairs. The abdomen is a distinctive blond colour with no black hairs

B. lapidarius (also known as the red tailed bumblebee) is a species which is more common in the southern half of the country and appears to have a more limited distribution in the north (floral rich meadows and dune systems). This species is very distinctive, its tail is red in colour (this can often look orange) with an entirely black body. The workers of this species are not easily confused with any other common species of bumblebee in Ireland. (It is however confused with some rarer species in Ireland). This species has a “Near Threatened” conservation status in Ireland.

B. lapidarius – Notice how this species is completely black except for a red tail. The hairs on the legs of this species are also black. Another species B. ruderarius is very similar to B. lapidarius except it has red leg hairs.
B. lapidarius – Notice how this species is completely black except for a red tail. The hairs on the legs of this species are also black. Another species B. ruderarius is very similar to B. lapidarius except it has red leg hairs.

For more information on species covered in this post check out –

http://apps.biodiversityireland.ie/BeesBrowser/speciesinfo.php?TaxonId=56027

http://apps.biodiversityireland.ie/BeesBrowser/speciesinfo.php?TaxonId=56019

http://apps.biodiversityireland.ie/BeesBrowser/speciesinfo.php?TaxonId=55990