It is well documented how Irish wildlife has provided many medicinal uses through the years, just one example is the extract digitalis from the foxglove which is still used today in modern medicine to treat heart congestion.
Although extracts from this weeks species, burdock (cnádán as Gaeilge) have also been used in traditional medicines it is better known for providing the inspiration for the invention of velcro. Burdock is a wild thistle that can be found growing on roadside verges and waste ground.
This member of the thistle family can reach a height of 50cm, the leaves are large and waxy however they are not prickly. This wildflower can be found in bloom between July to September each year.
The flowers are located at the top of the plant and are pink/purple in colour. The flowers and eventually the seeds are surrounded by ‘burrs’. Burrs are hook like and their purpose is to both aid the plant in seed dispersal and to prevent herbivores from eating the seeds.
The burr can hook onto the fur or clothing of a passing animal or person and thus travel to a new location where it can fall off and germinate.
How did this plant inspire the invention of velcro? In 1941 a gentleman called George de Mestrel was out hunting in Switzerland. He noticed small seeds sticking to both his clothing and also to his dogs fur. He wondered how these seeds seemed to defy gravity and stay attached. He brought them home and using a microscope took a closer look allowing him to identify, how what we know today as ‘burrs’, were hook like with an interlocking mechanism. He thought could this be used by humans? With the help of friends in the weaving industry they worked on the idea of a hook and loop fastener which we all know today as velcro.
Don’t forget IPCC are still looking for volunteers to help with the Autumn Marsh Fritillary nest survey, if you would like to get involved contact the Bog of Allen Nature Centre on 045-860133 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to suggest a species to focus on for ‘Wildlife Watch’ contact the Bog of Allen Nature Centre on 045 860133 or email email@example.com