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06 Jul 2022

Kildare's Wildlife Watch: The shy milkwort was a favourite cattle feed

With the Irish Peatland Conservation Council

Kildare's Wildlife Watch: The shy milkwort was a favourite cattle feed

Heath Milkwort. Picture: Nuala Madigan

While taking a walk along an old bog road over the long weekend, I came across a tiny bright blue-purple wildflower. I could have easily missed this wildflower, only for I happened to stop to tie my shoelace and, hidden within the grasses, the colour popped out at me.

This wildflower I identified to be heath milkwort (Na deirfiúríní as Gaeilge). This is a native wildflower and is typically found growing in blanket bogs and other peaty soils as it loves acidic soils.

Reading on the Wildflowers of Ireland website, I learned that heath milkwort can sometimes be mistaken for common milkwort — however, looking at the arrangement of the narrow leaves along the stem can help to tell these two wildflowers apart.

The green leaves of heath milkwort are arranged opposite each other along the stem, while the leaves of common milkwort are arranged alternatively — that is, the leaves are found growing singly along a stem and not positioned opposite each other.

The flowers of heath milkwort bloom May to September each year. Milkworts have five petals although, looking at the flower, this would not be obvious as two of the petals are large and the remaining three middle petals are fused together to form what looks like a tube.

One of these three petals forming the tube is also fringed. The flowers of heath milkwort grow in clusters of three to 10, while those of common milkwort are known to grow in clusters of up to 40.

Similar to many common names given to many of Ireland’s wildflowers, the name has an association to a former use.

In the case of milkwort, it was believed that cows which grazed in areas where milkwort was found growing had higher milk yields compared to those that did not feed on these wildflowers.

Watch for heath milkwort, or indeed common milkwort, in your local area this week, and use the leaves to identify which milkwort you have in your community.

Don’t forget, 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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