How well do you know your native Irish flora? Do you know which ones to look out for throughout the year? Check out our guide to some of Ireland’s most beautiful wildflowers and plants, including the best time of year to spot them.
January: The Snowdrop (Plúirín sneachta)
You know spring is just around the corner when you see the welcome blooms of the snowdrop nodding in the breeze. In fact, according to Irish folklore, its appearance marked the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It can usually be found growing beside streams, in damp woodlands and on roadsides. Originally from eastern Europe, it grows wild mainly in the eastern half of the country.
February: Gorse (Aiteann gallda)
These beautiful yellow flowers burst into flower in February and light up the landscape until early summer. They can withstand harsh winters at high altitudes, making them hardy and adaptable. The flowers have a lovely coconut smell and can be added to salads, herbal tea, beer, wine and ice cream. Plus, they’re great for bees. In the 18th and 19th centuries, gorse bushes were cut and dried for animal fodder. Don’t forget the old saying “When gorse is out of blossom, kissing’s out of fashion”
March: Primrose (Sabhaircín)
Primroses adorn grassy banks, woodlands and roadsides all over the country from March until May. The flower is about 2-3cm in size and yellow in colour, although its petals are a much paler hue than the centre. It can be eaten and has a flavour similar to the mildness of a lettuce leaf. Like much of our native Irish flora, the primrose comes with superstition attached. In ancient Ireland it was believed that if you ate the flower, a faery would appear before you.
April: Spring Gentian (Ceadharlach Bealtaine)
You won’t see this little gem all over the country but it’s presence in the Burren would make an April visit very worthwhile. This eye-catching bloom is one of the Burren’s most famous wildflowers. It measures about 2cm in diameter, and each flower has five blue petals with a white centre. The spring gentian blooms from April to June. If you’re lucky enough to see them in the Burren, remember not to pick them as they’re protected under European legislation.
May: The Hawthorn (Sceach gheal)
Clusters of white flowers bloom on hawthorn trees all over Ireland in mid-May. Although it’s actually a small tree, it was traditionally used as a hedging plant because its thorny branches kept animals from wandering. The hawthorn is steeped in legend. Along with the oak and ash, it’s one of the “faery tree triad” – when all three grow close together, faeries are said to appear. It was also associated with witchcraft. Its autumn fruits have been used for centuries to make jam, wine and liquor.
June: Dog Rose (Feirdhris)
From June to August, the pink or white flowers of the dog rose can be seen growing wild in hedgerows across the country. These fragrant flowers each have five petals, measure 3-5cm in diameter, and grow on thorny branches. In autumn, the plant produces fruits called hips which provide great food for birds. According to folklore, if a baby couldn’t pass urine, a handful of dog-rose briars burnt underneath the child would soon sort the problem.
July: Heather (Fraoch mór)
Just as the last gorse flowers have faded, heather bursts into bloom across Ireland’s mountains and bogs. From July until October, its purple bell-shaped flowers paint the landscape. Throughout history the heather plant has been used to make many things, including thatch, brooms, bedding, rope, baskets, fuel, tea, ale and mead. And of course, Irish heather honey is now known to be just as healthy as New Zealand’s famed manuka honey.
August: Autumn Lady’s Tresses (Cúilín Muire)
You’ll need to keep your eyes peeled to spot this flower because it’s listed as near threatened in Ireland’s Vascular Plant Red Data Book 2016. A member of the orchid family, it produces fragrant white flowers that grow in a spiral pattern up the stem. You won’t find these in the northern half of the country – even in the southern half, distribution is very scattered. Flowers bloom from early August until the end of September.
September: Blackberry (Dris)
Who remembers the excitement of collecting delicious blackberries as a child? And those vicious thorns! One of our most common native flora, blackberries grow wild in hedgerows all over the Irish countryside. The fruit, which ripens in September, has been a source of food for thousands of years – blackberry seeds were even found in the stomach of a Neolithic man in England. In some parts of Ireland, people believed that a pooka would spit on the berries at Halloween, making them inedible.
October: Killarney Strawberry Tree (An Chaithne)
As its name suggests, you’ll need to travel to Kerry to see this native evergreen. Particularly abundant around the Lakes of Killarney, it has peeling reddish bark, twisted stems, and appears to bear flower and fruit at the same time. The white bell-shaped flowers visible in September and October are actually next year’s fruit – a red berry similar to strawberries in appearance, but not so nice to eat. Once abundant throughout Ireland, it’s now rare due to its use for making charcoal.
November: Yarrow (Athair thalún)
While summer flowers are just a distant memory by now, yarrow still blooms across fields, waste grounds and roadsides. From June to November, its tiny white flowers make up clusters of flower heads 6-10cm in diameter. According to Irish folklore, yarrow was important for a safe journey, especially if it involved going to a fair to buy or sell an animal. Travellers were advised to pull ten leaves of yarrow, throw one away, and put the rest in a white cloth tied with string around the neck.
December: Holly (Cuileann)
This small, evergreen tree is widespread throughout the country. Small, white, four-petaled flowers appear in clusters from May to July, followed in late autumn by the familiar bright red berries. Holly has been associated with winter celebrations since ancient times. According to Irish tradition, evergreen branches were a sign of sanctuary to spirits fleeing winter’s cold and darkness. These spirits were thought to defend against evil, so homes were decorated with holly, ivy and mistletoe.
If we’ve sparked your curiosity, check out this great site to learn more about native Irish flora.