Mandy Tracey: Bog Beauties
Taking a closer look at bog habitats you may be surprised to find some of the most interesting and pretty flowering plants native to Ireland, you may even find yourself appreciating the strange beauty of lichens. Here a just a few of the many plants and lichen which have caught my attention during my boggy research.
(a) Bog-rosemary (Andromeda polifolia) is a native dwarf shrub belonging to the heather family (Ericaceae) and is found growing mainly in the lowland bogs of the midlands. This delicate little plant has pale pink elegant bell-shaped droopy flowers with contrasting dark green shiny leaves shaped like mini swords. the flowers of bog-rosemary can be seen throughout the months of May and June.
(c) Cross-leaved heath (Erica tetralix) and (d) Common heather (Calluna vulgaris) are members of the heather family (Ericaceae). The low growing shrubs are found widespread on bogs, moors and mountain habitats throughout Ireland. During the months of May to September when flowers are in blossom the bog is an amazing sight carpeted with masses of purple and pink flowers. Heather also commonly referred to as ling tends to grow in the drier soils of bog margins while cross-leaved heath preferring the wetter soils. The bell-shaped flowers of heather are usually a pale purple or pink colour and grow in clusters. The flowers of cross-leaved heath are larger and more globular in shape than the flowers of heather. The leaves of both plants are small and needle-like but the arrangement of the leaves of cross-leaved heath is in whorls of four which bear resemablance to a cross, hence the name.
(b) White-beaked sedge (Rhynchospora alba) another native plant to Ireland from the family Cyperaceae (sedges). Tall grass like stems with tiny white floral spikelets at the top reminds me a bit of a lamp post (lamp posts for the bog world). Identifying sedges, grasses and rushes can be quite challenging but a great mnemonic which I remember from my botany lectures last year has stayed with me eversince ; sedges have edges, rushes are round and grasses, like asses, have holes.
Even the lichen in bog habitats adds a certain glamour to the wet wonderland. Commonly referred to as the (e) devils matchstick lichen (Cladonia floerkeana) certainly brightens up the dry bare peat areas of the bog with its long stalk-like structure (podetia) and bright red tipped heads (Apothecia), a fungal reproductive structure. In the image (e) above Floerkeana can be seen growing amongst another type of lichen commonly called reindeer lichen (Cladonia portentosa) which looks a little less glamourous but striking all the same. Portentosa is the pale greyish white lichen which to me resembles coral. Lichen is technically not a plant but a symbiotic relationship between a fungal and algae. The fungi of this partnership provides the water necessary for life and the algae in return provides the fungi with essential nutrients in this way both organisms depend on each other for their survival.
Cranberry (f)(Vaccinium oxycoccus) is one of my favorite flowers to be found in the bog. The flower of the cranberry is umistakable with its pretty pink curved backward petals and snout-like stamens sticking out almost giving the flower an animal-like character. To add to the beauty of this creeping evergreen shrub is the bright red berries. Vaccinium oxycoccus is also a member of the heather family (Ericaceae) and can be found flowering during the months of June and July.
Cottongrass (g) belonging to the sedge family (Cyperaceae) is an iconic plant of the bog habitat which when in fruit is an impressive sight. During the summer months acres of bog land is covered with its tall narrow green stems and white candyfloss-like heads. The fluffy floral structures are in fact the seeding fruit of the plant the actual flowers are a lot less obvious. There are two types of Cottongrass in Ireland. Common cottongrass (Eriophorum angustifolium) and Hare’s-tail cotton grass (Eriophorum vaginatum). Both are very similar in appearance but the latter has more than one seed head and is found growing in bog pools. Common cottongrass tends to grows in clumps/tussocks on the drier margins of the bog. During the winter months when the seed heads die back the hare-tail cottongrass can be distinguished from common cottongrass by its thicker leaves which display orange-red tips.
Bog asphodel (h) (Narthecium ossifragum) belongs to the lily family (Lilaceae). The cluster of bright yellow flowers with six star shaped petals with noticable orange furry stamens protruding can be seen throughout the months of June and August. During the autumn the fruits of the plant turn a firey orange colour (i). The latin name ossifragum means bone breaking as it was believed that bog asphodel was the cause of brittle bones of grazing livestock.
Unfortunately for this year I have missed the flowering months (March-June) of Bogbean (j) (Menyanthes trifolia) but it sure is on my list of plants to look out for next year. This little gem grows in shallow waters of bogs, fens and even the gentle flowing water of canals. The flowers are a beautiful pinky white colour with five star-shaped fringed petals. The plant belongs to the family Meyanthaceae.
Photos (c), (h) and (i) http://www.irishwildflowers.ie
Photo (g) http://s0.geograph.org.uk/photos/43/48/434865_d5e8975f.jpg