Saturday, 22 September 2012


Connemara ponies graze in a species rich coastal grassland
with the The Twelve Bens in the background  

Over the last couple of weeks I have been working in Connemara, the westermost region of Co. Galway. This is the second summer during which my work has involved forays to this botanically fascinating area. 

Connemara has a long history of botanical visitors drawn by a suite of local specialities. The first of these being the Welsh botanist Edward Llwyd who visited in the late 17th century. Incidentally this is the Llwyd whose namesake Lloydia serotina has recently been rather unfeelingly reassigned to the genus Gagea. Since then pretty much no corner of Connemara has gone un-botanised. This is demonstrated by the thorough, if somewhat dated 1983 flora by David Webb and Mary Scannell. Despite its age it is remarkable in its accuracy. Most times one finds a plant in the region the exact location will be found to be noted in the flora.   

The most recent plant of interest I came across is not one I had associated with the region. The yellow bartsia, Parentucellia viscosa. I found it abundantly around about Roundstone in Juncus effusus flushes on the north facing slopes of the small hill Errisbeg (L_69430_39137). Sure enough on consulting Webb and Scannell I learnt that the species was first recorded in the region in 1909 by Praeger from a location within a stones throw of where I had found the plant. Another, somewhat less exciting but also unexpected species in the same area was Stachys arvensis found growing around a rock in an intensively sheep grazed semi-improved acid grassland (L_69379_39286). This species, normally found in arable situations, is listed as 'very rare' in the region by Webb and Scannell and no recent dots are shown in the Atlas.        
Parentucellia viscosa near Roundstone 12/09/12
Moving now to a famous location and a pair of species for Connemara is well known. On the other side of Errisbeg lies Roundstone bog a large expanse of lowland blanket bog punctuated by small oligotrophic loughs. This is the classic location of the Connemara speciality Erica mackaiana, Mackay's heath. E. mackaiana was first discovered in Ireland in 1835 on Roundstone bog and has been visited in this location by botanists ever since. By far the most difficult to identify of the three Irish heathers this species hybridises with the common Erica tetralix and even pure specimens appear very similar without close examination. Having been based for a number of years on the west coast of Ireland in both Mayo and Donegal I had been on the lookout for this species in some of its other stations but had not been able to convince myself with certainty that I was not simply looking at variation within Erica tetralix. However, on Roundstone bog last year I was able to study plentiful pure plants as well as a number of intermediates that I presume to be the aforementioned hybrid (E. X stuartii). 

Erica mackaiana with Pedicularis sylvatica subsp. hibernica
Roundstone Bog, Co. Galway 03/08/11

The second species is the subtly beautiful Eriocaulon aquaticum, Pipewort. This aquatic species is frequent in some parts of the west of Ireland but, apart from a few stations in Scotland, is unknown form the rest of Europe. It is one of a handful of species that have their headquarters in North America with outposts in the west of the British Isles. The nubs of peppered white flowers are found protruding from small acidic loughs. On Roundstone bog scattered plants grow in deep bog pools with their roots attached to other submerged vegetation rather than to the substrate. The picture below is of a much more impressive colony growing on gravely substrate in shallow water by a small lough in Co. Mayo.  

Eriocaulon aquaticum small lough near Currane,
Co. Mayo (
L 76433 92563)
The carnivorous plant Utricularia minor
growing in a bog pool.
Roundstone Bog, Co. Galway. 03/08/11 

Moving now from the Roundstone to the eastern edge of Connemara. The area around the western edges of Lough Mask and Lough Corrib is host to two other species with similar distributions to that of Eriocaulon aquaticum. The first of these, Hypericum canadense is doubtfully native. Outside of this area it is known from Cork and North America. It grows with some abundance in roadside ditches as well as in boggy flushes away from the road. 

Hypericum canadense 
growing in a track-side ditch near
Shanvallycahill (M 05017 62236) 01/08/11

The second species is the elegant little orchid Spiranthes romanzoffiana. It is well know from the shores of Lough Corrib though I myself saw it in Co. Mayo near Rinakilleen. It is found on gravely lake shores often among Molinia. Being somewhat small and inconspicuous it is quite possibly still to be discovered in a number of places. Given its current distribution in the UK (Dartmoor, Ireland and Scotland) I have often wondered if it may someday be found in Wales. 

Spiranthes romanzoffiana 
near Rinakilleen, Co. Mayo 16/08/2011

The final Connemara species for my blog today is not a speciality of the west of Ireland but is quite an enigmatic and strange little fern. Pilularia globulifera is a small aquatic, grass like plant that is only revealed as a pteridophyte by its coiled croziers (see picture). It is a local and decreasing species that I had not seen in the wild before. So I was pleased to find it in some abundance on swampy low-lying ground near the shore of one of the 'fingers' of Lough Mask near Finny (M_01780_58241).    

Pilularia globulifera 
near Finny (M_01780_58241)  03/07/11

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