New Year Plant Hunt: Co. Donegal

It’s now a full week since the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) held it’s New Year Plant Hunt, which encouraged botanists and all manner of enthused individuals to go out and find whatever was in flower from the 1st-4th of January. I was extremely interested when I heard about the project and in fact my enthusiasm led me out in the cold and rain just before 1:00AM to record my first species for the year (which also appears to be the earliest recorded species for the plant hunt) which was the beautiful and very common Daisy (Bellis perennis). Unfortunately the mixture of slippery ground, rain and wind didn’t allow me to get any decent photographs.

Daisy (Bellis perennis) the first plant I recorded this year at 00:53 on the 1st of January 2015.
Daisy (Bellis perennis) the first plant I recorded this year at 00:53 on the 1st of January 2015.

The 1st and 2nd of January did not bring great weather to Co. Donegal, so it was the 3rd before I finally got out into the field. But I was able to keep track of all the happenings of the hunt from the comfort of my home thanks to Twitter and FaceBook and Blog posts. From these sources I could find out how many records and species were coming in from various locations throughout Ireland and the UK.
(My Twitter – https://twitter.com/OshDuffy)
(BSBI Twitter – https://twitter.com/BSBIbotany)

On the 3rd I met up with Ralph Sheppard (BSBI Vice-County Recorder for West Donegal – H35) and we visited various areas around the county (mainly in East Donegal -H34, also a few in West Donegal too). Our first stop was fruitless, with only one species in flower, Gorse (Ulex europaeus) but the scenery more than made up for the lack of plants.

Lough Mourne looking towards the Gap.
Lough Mourne looking towards the Gap.

Our next stop was along the border of both vice counties in Donegal Town. Along the dividing line of the bridge we found Ivy (Hedera helix), Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum), Hazel (Corylus avellana) Ivy-leaved Toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis) and Water Ragwort (Senecio aquaticus). It was amazing to see some flowers in perfect shape as if it was their peak flowering time and others that seemed to be regretting the decision to flower (late/early).

Next on our list was Murvagh, a beautiful area in East Donegal which is fantastic during the Summer for plants and pollinators having a mix of sand dunes, grassland and a small bit of woodland too. I was there earlier in the year carrying out a BSBI Irish species project on Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia palustris) and ended up spending most of the day in the location. But on this occasion there was again very little in flower, Daisy (Bellis perennis), Dandelion (Taraxacum agg.) and Gorse (Ulex europaeus). Once again the lack of plants was not an issue as the scenery was phenomenal.

Murvagh looking spectacular as ever, but the fog really just adds something almost mystical to this picture.
Murvagh looking spectacular as ever, but the fog really just adds something almost mystical to this picture.

On our way back we stopped along a section of roadside in Convoy, where I was reliably informed that there was White Butterbur (Petasites albus) growing in previous year. Without too much effort we found both White Butterbur and Winter Heliotrope (Petasites fragrans) along with a collection of plants we’d encountered at the other sites and we also got our first and only grass of the day Poa annua. This turned out to be the most profitable site for flowering plants.

Ivy (Hedera helix) in flower at Convoy, Co. Donegal.
Ivy (Hedera helix) in flower at Convoy, Co. Donegal.

 

White Butterbur (Petasites albus) also found growing in Convoy. This one was also completely new to my species list.
White Butterbur (Petasites albus) also found growing in Convoy. This one was also completely new to my species list.

On the 4th of January I decided to go out into the field for the last time (as the New Year Plant Hunt was finishing that day). It soon became a bit of a family affair with my parents joining me and helping me search for anything in flower. We got some of the usual suspects early on, Daisy, Dandelion, but were finding it hard to find any Ivy in flower. I was starting to wonder if I would even make it past 3 species, when we came across Bramble (Rubus fruitcosus agg.) in flower! Finding that gave us all new enthusiasm and we started picking up other plants, Fuchsia (which seems to pop itself into areas without too much difficulty) Common Chickweed (Stellaria media), Broad-leaved Dock (Rumex obtusifolius) and Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare). 

Rumex looking rather fantastic.
Rumex looking rather fantastic.

 

Bramble flower looking likes it has had a rather tough time of it.
Bramble flower looking likes it has had a rather tough time of it.

As we ventured out a little further we started to notice a few other plants, Herb-Robert once again peaked it’s rather (on this occasion) weathered head, along with gorse (which was turning out to be a constant) and Red Campion (Silene dioica). Straight after finding the Red Campion I also noticed Groundsel and Smooth Sow-Thistle (Sonchus oleraceus). The species list was certainly on the up and up at this stage and I had also added some species which I hadn’t got the previous day. The last two species I recorded on the 4th were also new for my list, Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) and Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna). It was a nice surprise to come across these two and I hadn’t properly seen Hogweed since I was turning over the leaves to look for 22-spot Ladybirds.

Herb-Robert looking slightly weathered, but then again, the past few days had been rough, with wind, rain and even frost.
Herb-Robert looking slightly weathered, but then again, the past few days had been rough, with wind, rain and even frost.

Overall, between both days 20 species of plant were recorded in Donegal and I was relatively happy with this, considering how Donegal isn’t exactly the mildest of places in Ireland. It also gave me a jump start for the year to get back into the field and get recording (which I have been doing since and I’m actually keeping a species for this year, so I’ll be giving updates on that here too). If you missed out on the New Year Plant Hunt on this occasion, then fear not, you can catch up with all the botanical recording here -(http://bsbipublicity.blogspot.ie/2015/01/new-year-plant-hunt-over-for-another.html ) and also prepare yourself for New Year Plant Hunt 2016. You could also go out into the field any time and record plants, be they flowering or not and send the details on to a Biological Recording Centre (such as the National Biodiversity Data Centre in Ireland) or even your BSBI Vice-county recorder. I’ll sign off with a list of all the plant that were recorded over the two days!

Fog lifting off the fields surrounding Lough Mourne.
Fog lifting off the fields surrounding Lough Mourne.

• Daisy (Bellis perennis)
• Dandelion (Taraxacum .agg)
• Ivy (Hedera helix)
• Ivy leaved toad flax (Cymbalaria muralis)
• Winter Heliotrope (Petasites fragrans)
• White Butterbur (Petasites albus)
• Poa annua
• Gorse (Ulex europaeus)
• Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)
• Water Ragwort (Senecio aquaticus)
• Red Campion (Silene diocia)
• Hazel (Corylus avellana)
• Herb-Robert (Geranium robertianum)
• Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus)
• Broad-leaved Dock (Rumex obtusifolius)
• Smooth Sow-Thistle (Sonchus oleraceus)
• Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)
• Common Chickweed (Stellaria media)
• Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium)
• Bramble (Rubus fruitcosus agg.)

 

 

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4 thoughts on “New Year Plant Hunt: Co. Donegal”

  1. So many things flowering at this time of year simply doesn’t feel right, perhaps some snow and those equal rare harsh Frosts will get things back in balance. Good to know the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland are taking an interest in such occurrences though, adding to knowledge base around climate change and the like.

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    1. Hi Tony,

      It is a very interesting time of year in that respect, in Co. Donegal a few days before we had very cold, frosty weather (a few mornings in the minus territory and most at a chilly 1-2 degrees). Some plants seemed completely unfazed by the cold and others definitely did look worse for wear (almost seeming as if they regretted their early/late flowering).
      As you say, getting a knowledge base about these things are very important and hopefully with the continuation of the New Year Plant Hunt there’ll be trends we’ll be able to look on in a few years!

      The other enjoyable aspect of the Plant Hunt was that, well it gets you back out in the field, stops you from getting rusty!

      All the best,
      Oisín

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