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).

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