Kildare's Wildlife Watch: The tree flower that’s a sign of springtime

With the Irish Peatland Conservation Council

Kildare's Wildlife Watch: The tree flower that’s a sign of springtime

A catkin. Picture: Nuala Madigan

Our local areas are very familiar to all of us at this stage of the current Covid-19 restrictions. However, don’t forget even if you take the same route for a walk every day that, at this time of year, the spring wave is rising across our country and the variety of wildlife you encounter will be changing.

This week, the weather is not as bright and calm as it was around St Patrick’s Day and it is much windier.

With the increase in wind, I started to notice that one section of my walking route was filled with catkins. So, although I was taking the same daily walking route I had not taken time to notice that the willow I passed had already produced its catkins!

A catkin (caitín as Gaeilge) can be found on tree species including both willow and hazel in early spring.

Catkins are actually the flowers of these tree species. They don’t look like your typical flower, with brightly coloured petals, but no matter what it looks like, all flowers function to allow reproduction.

Most catkins are cylindrical in shape, and from my own observation quite fluffy looking.

Although most catkins are wind pollinated, those of the willow are pollinated by insects and in particular are loved by our bumblebee species as they provide an early supply of nectar as they emerge from their winter hibernation.

When a bumblebee visits a catkin, pollen attaches to its fur and when the same hungry bumblebee visits the next catkin, the pollen collected, unknown to it, is deposited on the second catkin. Once pollinated the flowers of plants produce their fruits, which of course are cases to protect the seeds that will eventually germinate to create a new plant.

This week, while you are out enjoying your daily walk, look around your local area to see can you find catkins or indeed other signs of the spring wave in your community.

If you come across a wildlife species that you would like help identifying I would be happy to help. Contact me at bogs@ipcc.ie.

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