Tag Archives: Ireland

New Year Plant Hunt 2017

From the first to the fourth of January I have been taking part in the New Year Plant Hunt (NYPH), an initiative by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) to get people out recording during the first four days of the New Year to see what’s in flower between Ireland and Britain.

Glenveagh National Park, Co. Donegal – Oisín Duffy

As is normal for all my adventures in biological recording (and everything really) I was joined by the wonderful Mairéad Crawford (the other Vice-County Recorder for East Donegal). This was my third year participating in the NYPH, having recorded in Donegal, Tyrone, Derry and Armagh in previous years.

The first plant I recorded in 2017 and the first of the New Year Plant Hunt, White Clover (Trifolium repens) taken just after midnight – Oisín Duffy

My first botanical interaction of 2017 came just after midnight when I recorded a rather beautiful White Clover (Trifolium repens) which was growing relatively near my house. I was informed that for the third year in a row I had logged the first record of the NYPH event. Darkness and extremely wet ground dissuaded me from pushing my luck any further. The next morning was rather bright and chilly (a common occurrence in Donegal) and we decided to record along both of our local areas (particular around Argery and Raphoe). With one plant down on the list, it wasn’t long before we started seeing an abundance of Dandelions (Taraxacum), Daisy (Bellis perennis) and the lovely grass Poa annua. These species repeated on the list for quite a while and quite a while of time was spent looking for Ivy in flower, the majority of which had gone to berry. Eventually after walking a stretch of road, we came across a few extremely tatty Ivy (Hedera helix) flowers.

Gorse (Ulex europaeus) was one of the great constants throughout the plant hunt – Oisín Duffy

Gorse (Ulex europaeus) was another reliable plant and was in flower throughout the local area. Disturbed ground near the entrance of fields, gates and houses had great numbers of daisies and also one new species for the list Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris). While recording around Raphoe Town and the nearby environs of Mongorry we came across, a rather tattered Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus acris), Lolium perenne and the much maligned Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea).

Views from Mongorry – Oisín Duffy

The last stop on our first day of the plant hunt was to check out a site for White Butterbur (Petasites albus), which doesn’t appear to be all that common and seems to be confined to Ulster within Ireland. We found numerous plants, but only a few were actually in flower, but I’d imagine it will be an impressive display in a short time.

Ivy-Leaved Toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis) still in flower in Convoy, Co. Donegal – Oisín Duffy.

On the way back to the car we noticed Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna) in flower and many others not far off it and while checking nearby stonewalls, we spotted Ivy-Leaved Toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis) which had numerous flowers (not all of which were in good shape, but it was certainly nice to have a little bit of colour for the end of the day).

Our starting point on Day two of the New Year Plant Hunt – Oisín Duffy

Day two seen us travelling further North, we again set off after 12:00 as the mornings were quite frosty and road conditions less than favourable. Our first stop for the day was Inch Wildfowl Reserve, a beautiful part of the county and a favoured spot for birdwatchers. While the bird life, views and weather was gorgeous, there was very little in flower and the usual suspects were recorded (Daisy, Dandelion, Poa annua and Ivy). One thing which was found in numerous parts of the county (but we didn’t get recording at every location) was Winter Heliotrope (Petasites fragrans). This non-native plant has a tendency to carpet the ground with its large horseshoe-shaped leaves and sweet smelling flowers (the scent is something similar to vanilla or aniseed). This was taking up patches of roadsides through from Raphoe all the way to Buncrana and can outcompete or block other native plants from growing in that area.

Just before setting off around Swan Park – Oisín Duffy

Even though the temperatures were barely above 6 degrees, it felt like great weather, refreshing breezes and plenty of sunshine, the only thing that was missing was flowering plants. With this in mind we decided to take a trip to Swan Park in Buncrana. The park which has a nice range of mini habitats also has the beautiful Crana River running through it, which on this occasion looked more like glass or silk than water.

More glorious weather at Swan Park, but unfortunately not much in flower – Oisín Duffy

Before finishing for the evening we paid a visit to the amazing hillfort of Grianan of Aileach. While there was virtually nothing in flower here the views over the surrounding countryside were spectacular and well worth the visit if you happen to find yourself in the area.

Grianan of Aileach, Co. Donegal – Oisín Duffy

Even though the walks and weather was glorious, we hadn’t much luck in finding any new species. So we enjoyed the rest of the January sunshine and made our way back home with the hope that tomorrow would once again be more fruitful.

Amazing views from Grianan of Aileach – Oisín Duffy

Day three seen us going West and into the neighbouring Vice-County of West Donegal (H35), where Glenveagh National Park was the main target for the day. We arrived just in time for light showers of rain but a rather peaceful park. The remnants of many gone over plants dotted the sides of paths and long grass, but once again we were spotting very little in flower.

Glenveagh National Park, Co. Donegal – Oisín Duffy

Beautiful purple buds of Alder added colour to a somewhat grey day, but before long the sun was battling against the grey clouds and putting up a valiant fight against the rain. More of the usual suspects again, with only one new species to the list being Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens). Even though the views were stunning the lack of plants and incoming heavy rain persuaded us to try elsewhere for additional flowering plants.

Donegal Roads, plenty of miles where put in travelling from site to site, not that it did much for our species list – Oisín Duffy

Ards Friary was the next location on our journey and while once again the views and scenery were amazing we actually managed to find a few extra species to add to our list.

Ards Friary, Co. Donegal – Oisín Duffy

We managed to come across Cock’s Foot (Dactylis glomerata) in amazingly good condition, reminiscent of plants we seen during the Summer while surveying. The dainty Petty Spurge (Euphorbia peplus) was also recorded as well as Nipplewort (Lapsana communis). Unfortunately with another setting sun, we made tracks back home to plan for the final day of recording of the New Year Plant Hunt.

Setting Sun at Ards Friary – Oisín Duffy

If you’ve made it this far you’ll have noticed that we had a day’s recording in the East, West and North Donegal, so there’s no prize for guessing where we decided to spend day four of the plant hunt and that was in South Donegal. One of favourite spots (and location of our BSBI field-outing this year) is Murvagh, a beautiful and diverse coastal habitat with quite a few rarities.

Nice weather and plants, just not that many in flower – Oisín Duffy

Murvagh is generally a treat to anyone interested in nature, but unfortunately for us, very little was in flower. We did however see a few “gone over good finds” which captured our attention for quite a while.

Round-Leaved Wintergreen (Pyrola rotundifolia ssp. maritima) – Oisín Duffy

This was really the common trend of the four days, only the hardiest of plants where still about and flowering, a series of hard frosts in mid/late December finished off a number of plants which I had recorded in late November.

Skies above Murvagh just before – Oisín Duffy

However we still managed to record 18 species over the 4 days (not the best total in world) but for being at the North-Western limit of the New Year Plant Hunt and to have bad frosts and rather cold conditions, it wasn’t that bad and of course the main thing was that we had immense fun, travelling our home county, seeing amazing scenery, shaking off any botanical recording rust that set in over the Winter period and I can’t think of too many better ways to spend the first four days of the New Year than being in and recording nature with Mairéad.

Below is the full list of plants which we recorded over the four days:

White Clover (Trifolium repens) – 1st of the New Year Plant Hunt
Ivy (Hedera helix)
Daisy (Bellis perennis)
Dandelion (Taraxacum agg.)
Gorse (Ulex europaeus)
Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)
Annual Meadow Grass (Poa annua)
Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea)
Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus acris)
Perennial Rye Grass (Lolium perenne)
Winter Heliotrope (Petasites fragrans)
White Butterbur (Petasites albus)
Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna)
Ivy-Leaved Toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis)
Hazel (Corylus avellana)
Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens)
Cock’s Foot (Dactylis glomerata)
Petty Spurge (Euphorbia peplus)
Nipplewort (Lapsana communis)


BSBI Summer Meeting Day I – White Park Bay

Recently the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) held it’s Annual Summer Meeting (ASM) in Northern Ireland. Yesterday I covered the first part of Day I, now it’s on to part two! White Park Bay, Co. Antrim  White Park Bay is a spectacular area and is owned by the National Trust. We had seen many pictures of the area earlier in the morning during the talks and presentations and while they were amazing shots, nothing can prepare you for the amazing scenery that it has to offer. We were given some further background to the site and then split up into three recording groups so botanise in different habitats and locations.

Getting briefed about White Park Bay - Oisín Duffy
Getting briefed about White Park Bay – Oisín Duffy

But first, here’s a quick shot of how everything looked before recording!

White Park Bay - Oisín Duffy
White Park Bay – Oisín Duffy

Along the way to the dune system we noticed another group –

Cows on the beach
Cows on the beach – Oisín Duffy

It didn’t take long for the recording to start and all of a sudden scientific names were flying in from every member of the group. On my first BSBI outing in 2013 I knew very few scientific names and it was great to know that my Latin and Greek has obviously improved quite a bit as I understood most of what was being recorded. A great thing about being in a smaller group is that you get to see the various ways people have of identifying species or distinguishing confusion species. It’s also great for getting tips and being shown species from some of the trickier groups (grasses, sedges etc). I think sometimes these groups are slightly more difficult to remember, but thanks to Con Breen I came away knowing a few more grasses and sedges. One species that stuck with me in particular (probably as it was everywhere) was Avenula pubescens.

Avenula pubescens - Oisín Duffy
Avenula pubescens – Oisín Duffy

With the more common species already recorded on the card, the time came to do some hardcore botanising. I always find that there is a great amount of camaraderie between botanists and it’s great when everyone is chipping in to achieve a common goal, in this case an identification. Some shots of this interaction are below –

BSBI Botanists at White Park Bay - Oisín Duffy
BSBI Botanists at White Park Bay – Oisín Duffy
More group Identification by BSBI Botanists - Oisín Duffy
More group Identification by BSBI Botanists – Oisín Duffy
BSBI botanist discussing ID features - Oisín Duffy
BSBI botanist discussing ID features – Oisín Duffy
Everyone gathering to admire Spring Squill (Scilla verna) - Oisín Duffy
Everyone gathering to admire Spring Squill (Scilla verna) – Oisín Duffy
BSBI President and Orchid Referee Ian Denholm, investigating with a hand lens - Oisín Duffy
BSBI President and Orchid Referee Ian Denholm, investigating with a hand lens – Oisín Duffy

My highlight for this trip and in fact the whole day was recording Spring Squill (Scilla verna) a plant which I had not come across before.

Spring Squill (Scilla verna) - Oisín Duffy
Spring Squill (Scilla verna) – Oisín Duffy

Luckily the species was abundant in the area so there was plenty to be found and photographed. Other interesting species we came across –

Heath Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza maculata)
Heath Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza maculata)
Frog Orchid (Coeloglossum viride) - Oisín Duffy
Frog Orchid (Coeloglossum viride) – Oisín Duffy
Common Twayblade (Neottia ovata)
Common Twayblade (Neottia ovata)

An excellent end to the first day of the BSBI ASM in Northern Ireland.

Everyone heading back to the bus after a nice day botanising! - Oisín Duffy
Everyone heading back to the bus after a nice day botanising! – Oisín Duffy

BSBI Summer Meeting Day I – Garry Bog

The Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) recently held its Annual Summer Meeting (ASM) in Northern Ireland which involved botanists from Ireland, Northern Ireland and the UK coming together to enjoy the splendour of Ulster’s scenery and of course to record plants across a number of habitats and locations.

The ASM for me started on the Saturday (13/06/15) where in the morning we attended a number of talks about the natural history of Ulster, including habitats, geology and pressures/threats which are putting species at risk.
Dr. Micheline Sheehy Skeffington chaired the morning of presentations which seen talks from stalwart BSBI botanist John Faulkner, who gave an introduction to botany in Ulster,  Patrick Casement was next and gave us some of his personal background and reflections of North Coast. After a short break we got a detailed presentation regarding the habitats, species and geology from Paul Corbett and Ian Enlander.
During the talks/presentations we viewed a number of images from the sites which we would be visiting over the weekend and this conjured some great excitement for the audience of botanists (many of whom were having their first visit to the North Coast).

Garry Bog –
The first site we visited was Garry Bog, Co. Antrim a raised bog and National Nature Reserve managed by the Northern Ireland Environmental Agency (NIEA). David McNeil (V.C Recorder H39) led the outing.

On route to Garry Bog - Oisín Duffy
On route to Garry Bog – Oisín Duffy

After we were given a short talk on site history we made our way into the bog and started to record any species we could find. Sundew species (Drosera sp) were the first things to capture our attention.

Micheline pointing out sundew species. - Oisín Duffy
Micheline pointing out sundew species (Drosera sp). – Oisín Duffy

Every bog pool had a number of very interesting plant and it was a delight to come across some of the following.

Drosera Anglica - Oisín Duffy
Drosera Anglica – Oisín Duffy
Drosera rotundifolia - Oisín Duffy
Drosera rotundifolia – Oisín Duffy
Bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata) - Oisín Duffy
Bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata) – Oisín Duffy

On route from one bog pool to another we also came across Carex panicea and Carex pilulifera along with large amounts of Sphagnum sp. Due to my interest in these pools and being shown some species which I hadn’t come across before, I didn’t actually make it too far into the vast expanse of bog, but of course others did.

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As we were preparing to head back to the bus Bog Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) was spotted flowering in great abundance. I had come across the species before, but never in flower, this was my highlight from Garry Bog.

Bog Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) - Garry Bog - Oisín Duffy
Bog Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) – Garry Bog – Oisín Duffy
Bog Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) - Garry Bog - Oisín Duffy
Bog Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) – Garry Bog – Oisín Duffy

Bog Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) is also part of the BSBI Irish Species Project, which aims to record eight species of plant which are in need with more up-to-date information. If you find Bog Cranberry or are just interested in the project follow the link below to find out more information.

Next post will involve our trip to the beautiful White Park Bay.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee

Buff-tailed Bumblebee

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 and Bombus Jonellus. Depending on your location you may also see Bombus Muscorum. Bombus lapidarius is more common in the south of the country (I only generally seem to record it on speices rich grassland near the coast in the North) 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.

This week we will be looking at the Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris). In Ireland buff-tailed queens are quite noticeable creatures. They are large species and often one of the first to emerge in the spring, in fact they are one of the few species to actually forage during the winter. It is well worth keeping an eye out for these beautiful bumblebees on mild winter days (especially in urban areas). A few days into January of this year I was amazed to see a lovely new buff-tailed queen feeding on Ivy (Hedera helix). A few days later, I started to notice a few more searching for suitable feeding areas.

Bombus terrestris Queen

As I mentioned, the first thing to look for is tail colour, buff-tailed queens have a “buff” coloured tail. This can range from a dirty white to an almost brown/orange colour and stands out quite a bit compared to the white-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum) (which has a very clean white tail, but there’ll be more about that in the coming week). The species has two dark yellow/orange bands, one on the thorax and one on the abdomen (this also differs from the white tailed which has very bright lemon yellow bands on the thorax and abdomen).

Comparison between the B. terrestris and B. lucorum


The queens are rather easy to tell apart once they have been observed a few times (it helps if you have a white-tailed bumblebee for comparison near the beginning though). Unfortunately the workers are not as easy to tell apart as the queens, in fact it’s a great deal more complicated as it involves DNA analysis of the species.

B. terrestris / B. lucorum workers in Ireland.

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.)



Inch and beyond – Botanising in East Donegal (VC H34)

Donegal is a beautiful and interesting county, filled with wonderful scenery, areas of historical/cultural significance and a great place to get in touch with nature!

On the 12/07/2014 we set off on a rather drizzly morning from base-camps to Inch Island (which has a fantastic reputation for birdwatching). The first site we arrived at was Millbay near Ballynakilly (which once had a Corn and Flax Mill). The surround habitat was sand and shingle with agricultural fields further in the background. It didn’t appear as if the weather was going to get any better so we decided to start recording. A few of the plants which were recorded at this site, where new to my species listing, which always gives you encouragement to search for more.

Sea Milkwort (Glaux maritima)
Sea Milkwort (Glaux maritima)

Sea Milkwort (Glaux maritima) was probably my favourite new plant species for this site. The plant is hardy (in relation it’s salt rich habitat) but still delicate and rather beautiful.

Looking out to Lough Swilly from Inch Pier
Looking out to Lough Swilly from Inch Pier

The second site for the day was down at the pier at Inch, which appears to be close to Down Fort (Inch Fort). More sand, hedgerows and treelines in this location. The majority of the plants found here were quite common, but there was a few that were nice to see and one in particular that was rather odd.

Sand Leek  (Allium scorodoprasum)
The possible – Sand Leek 
(Allium scorodoprasum)

Sand Leek (Allium scorodoprasum) is not at all widely recorded for Ireland and appears to have only one record for Donegal between the years 1930-1969. I had never come across this species before and because of that we weren’t quite sure whether it was Sand Leek or Babington’s Leek (Allium ampeloprasum var. babingtonii). There was at least 5 individuals which were growing along with nettles, sow thistles and grasses. The plant is rather striking for no other reason than it looks like nothing else we’ve ever seen! The flowering head is rather unusual but rather pretty (although the smell is not something I could grow accustomed to). It has an extremely long stem (waist height for some) and a papery sheath just below the flowering head which can be seen in the above picture. Unfortunately by the time we had a second opinion on the species the plant had gone over, while it may seem like a shame not to know right now, it gives us something to look forward to for next year (yes, we’re already planning a trip to the same site for 2015 to get full confirmation). Regardless of the species, it will be quite an interesting record as the majority of Allium species have quite low record counts for East Donegal (VC H34). (In case you were wondering, I’m hoping it turns out to be Sand Leek).

Third site on our list was Lackan (Woodland), the area was mainly conifer plantations and there didn’t appear to be a great variety except for a scattering of plants on the banks and above the ditches.

Our final site for the day, took us out of Inch and on our way further into North Donegal. Situated between Buncrana and Carndonagh is the wonderful Lough Fad.

Lough Fad
Lough Fad

The surrounding area included bog and some unimproved grassland and a number of orchids turned up also. Bog species, such as Round leaved Sundew (Drossera rotundifolia) Bog Asphodel (Narthecium ossifragum ) and Bog Pimpernel (Anagallis tenella). Common, Heath Spotted Orchids, as well as Northern Marsh Orchid were also found! Devils Bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis) the larval foodplant of the only protected insect species in Ireland the Marsh Fritillary was also on site.
Follow me on Twitter if you’re interested in the Flora of Ireland (in particular East Donegal) or Irish Biodiversity.
Twitter – https://twitter.com/OshDuffy
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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).

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 – 



For more from me –
(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).