Kildare’s Wildlife Watch: A Winter Bloom of the Mediterranean

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As we are in the depths of winter, there are few flowering plants in our local communities as most native plants hibernate to protect against frost.

While we had a very mild December, the temperatures certainly dropped at the start of this new year.

There’s a blooming wildflower to watch out for in your area this week, and since it’s in full bloom in winter, you can be sure this week’s species isn’t native to Ireland.

The winter heliotrope (plúr na gréine like Gaeilge) is a species native to the warmer climates of the Mediterranean. As 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 vertically and are pale pink in color. Interestingly, they are said to have a vanilla scent.

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

Similar to most non-native species, this plant was introduced to Ireland for ornamental purposes but escaped from gardens and is said to grow commonly in wetlands in all counties of Ireland, often the along the rivers.

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

For most plants there is a male and a 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 different nodes along its roots, which send new shoots to the surface.

Clone

Ultimately this means for the winter heliotrope population in Ireland that whichever county you are in, the plant you identify is simply a clone of the original specimens first introduced to our ribs.

If you would like help identifying local wildlife, or would like to share your images of local wildlife encountered for use in future wildlife viewing, contact me on 045 860133 or email [email protected]

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