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20 Jan 2022

Kildare's Wildlife Watch: A winter bloom from the Mediterranean

With the Irish Peatland Conservation Centre

Kildare's Wildlife Watch: A winter bloom from the Mediterranean

Winter heliotrope. Picture: Nuala Madigan

As we are in the depths of winter, there are few plants that are in bloom in our local communities as most native plants are hibernating to protect themselves against the freezing conditions.

While we had a very mild month of December, the temperatures have certainly taken a dip early in this New Year.

There is one wildflower in bloom to watch for in your local area this week, and due to the fact that it is in full bloom in winter, you can be sure this week’s species is not native to Ireland.

Winter Heliotrope (plúr na gréine as Gaeilge) is a species that originated in warmer climates of the Mediterranean. As it is one of the few species in flower at the moment in Ireland, if you come across it it will be fairly easy to identify.

The flowers are borne in spikes, grow upright and are pale pink in colour. Interestingly, they are said to have a vanilla scent.

The leaves are shiny green, kidney shaped and are smooth on the surface and hairy underneath.

Similar to most non-native species, this plant was introduced to Ireland for ornamental purposes but has escaped gardens and it said to be commonly found growing in damp areas in all counties of Ireland, often along rivers.

Its preferred growing area has probably contributed to its spread as parts of the plant can be carried to new locations by the flowing water.

For most plants there is a male and female, and Winter Heliotrope is no different. However, it is believed that all Winter Heliotrope plants in Ireland are male and therefore its reproduction is vegetative. This means that the plant has the ability to create a new plant from various nodes along its roots, which send new shoots to the surface.

Clones

Ultimately, this means for the population of Winter Heliotrope in Ireland, that no matter what county you are in the plant you identify is simply a clone of the original specimens first introduced to our shores.

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

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