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24/09/2021

Kildare's Wildlife Watch: The inspiration behind Velcro fastenings

With the Irish Peatland Conservation Council

Kildare's Wildlife Watch: The inspiration behind Velcro fastenings

Lesser burdock. Picture: John Madigan

While spending a few days away and taking the opportunity to enjoy some walks, our group came across a badger set located on the side of a hill.

While that was interesting to find, it was the rather large widflower that was growing at the entrance of the set that was intriguing as it was a plant I was unfamiliar with.

Taking a photo, on our return to a WiFi zone we searched through the Wild Flowers of Ireland website — eventually identifying the wildflower as Lesser Burdock (Cnádán as Gaeilge).

This wildflower is native and can grow to a height of one metre. The green leaves borne on hollow stalks are large, with wavy edges. The basal leaves can measure a length of 40cm when fully grown.

The flowers bloom from July to September and are greenish to purple/pink in colour.

The flower is described as egg shaped and it is stalkless but grows in clusters along a stem.

The florets are surrounded by hooked bracts. The purpose of the hooks is for seed dispersal as the hooks attach to the fur of passing animals — in this case, the most frequent being the emerging badgers at night. As they feed in the surrounding area, the seeds will eventually drop from the badger fur and, if on suitable ground, they will be able to germinate.

Lesser Burdock can be found all around Ireland — however, the one soil type it cannot survive in is the acid soil typically found on peatlands.

A random fact about this wildflower is that while a Swiss engineer, by the name of George de Mestral, was removing the hooked bracts from his dog’s fur after returning from a walk, he realised the hook and loops used by Lesser Burdock for seed dispersal could be useful to us — and so the Velcro brand was born!

Will you find Lesser Burdock flowering in your community this week?

If you would like help identifying local wildlife or indeed to share your images of local wildlife encountered to be used in a future Wildlife Watch, contact me on 045 860133 or bogs@ipcc.ie.

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