Ireland's plants

Forty shades of green? Maybe, but when it comes to plant life in Ireland, there’s a whole lot more besides

The Burren, County Clare
The Burren, County Clare

Want to know what makes Ireland's plant life unique? It's best to ask the expert: "For a small island, Ireland's flora is remarkably rich and diverse" says Dr Neil Lockhart, senior botanist with The National Parks and Wildlife Service.

“Nearly half of Europe’s mosses occur here and, uniquely, flowering plants from places as far apart as the Iberian Peninsula, the Arctic and even North America, all happily coexist.”

Rathlin Island, County Antrim
Rathlin Island, County Antrim

What this means is that at any point during the year, the countryside is ablaze with flora from the bright yellow Wicklow gorse (which smells like coconut when it's warm) to the hot pink fuchsia in West Cork, and the hawthorn and gorse of the Glens of Antrim.

Our natural treasures

The rhododendron might be the national flower of Nepal, but such is its ubiquity in Ireland that it could almost be ours, too. A cycle, walk or drive through the Vee in the Knockmealdown mountains of Tipperary and Waterford will bring you up close to thousands of wild rhododendron bushes. A little more modest in color is the bog cotton flower, which is sprinkled like snowballs over the rougher heather and scrub of the island’s bogland areas. Alongside the west Fermanagh Lakelands, meanwhile, keep watch for the rarer, bright yellow Globeflower as they bloom between May and June, before the cream-colored Cowbane makes its appearance over the rest of the summer months.

The Burren

If you're looking for a microcosm of Ireland's flora and fauna, however, the Burren in County Clare is the place to go. Over 70% of Ireland’s 900 native plant species are found here, and of the 28 orchids that are native to the island of Ireland, 24 are in the Burren. Keep your eyes out for lesser butterfly orchid, fly-orchid and autumn lady's tresses, as well as Irish eyebright, thyme broomrape and maidenhair fern.

Picture perfect

For some Kodak moments, you’ll find the island in bloom at different times of the year. Try the "orchard county" of Armagh in May when the hills are covered with white and pink apple blossom; the pink/purple heather covering the hills of Wicklow from June to September; or the blue spring Gentian that sets the Burren alight from late April to June.