This month GEAI introduced the Ballinaglera Biodiversity Project to the community. The initial idea was to take the students of St. Hugh’s National School and anyone interested to the Leitrim Way, particularly the stretch that includes the St. Hugh’s Well and Sweathouse. This path due to weather conditions was muddy and not safe for a walk, so GEAI’s volunteers and ecologist Heather Bothwell, brought nature to the school instead.
All students were presented with a coloring book that contains nine local species that everyone can find in the Leitrim. You can download your own copy here. It was amazing to see that everyone already had some knowledge about these plants, and the eagerness to understand how important they are in various ways.
The flora and fauna in any given place changes over a year span. The nine species presented can all be found locally in May. Heather’s studies will certainly raise our awareness of the unique biodiversity in county Leitrim! We can expect more information and a lot of interesting results from this project later this year.
Holly tree (Cuileann)
This tree can withstand colder temperature and harsher weather conditions. When holly leaves fall, they can take years to decompose, and so they serve as shelter for small animals from predators. A holly can be either female or male, both can have cream-colored flowers, but only female holly can have berries (if there’s also a male holly close by). These berries are food for many birds but are toxic for humans.
Holly trees in some parts are considered sacred, and for this reason people would leave them uncut, often building around it. They were also seen as protectors against lightning strikes, which has been explained in new studies that the veins on the holly leaves act as small energy conductors therefore protecting houses and objects nearby.
Wood anemone (Lus na gaoithe)
This flower is found at ground level and doesn’t grow more than six inch tall. It needs a lot of time to spread across more than a few feet, and for this reason it can be an indicator of ancient woodland.
They are considered toxic to both animals and humans. This flower only opens up when it’s sunny, as soon as it starts raining the flower will close up, for this, it was believed that fairy folk would hide inside this flower to protect against harsh weather.
Bluebell (Coinnle corra)
Bluebells present a dark violet color generally, although due to a regenerative mutation, there can also be found white bluebells. Just like the wood anemone, bluebells can be indicators of ancient woodland.
Bluebell sap was used as glue, both for attaching feathers to arrows, but also for book bindings, given that sap is toxic. Although it is also toxic to humans, some with incorporate it in medicine.
There is also some folklore surrounding these flowers. Bluebell woods are said to be enchanted and home to fairy folk. It was believed that bluebells rang to call the fairies home, and if humans heard this sound misfortune would befall upon them. In a happier note, bluebells are considered the symbol of beauty in Irish mythology.
The wood sorrel is another Irish native plant that can be an indicator of old, undisturbed woodland. It is also known as the fake shamrock! Their scientific name, Oxalis, gives a clue to one of the components, oxalic acid. Wood sorrel was used often in salads for its bitter taste, but it is also poisonous in bigger quantities.
Pignut is sometimes mistaken for other species within the Apiaceae family, such as hemlock, which is a highly poisonous plant.
Pignut can under some conditions develop a tubercule (growth) with an appearance similar to hazelnut but with a bitter taste.
Common Dog Violet (Fanaigse)
In Greek mythology, violets are the symbol of fertility and romance. They grow at ground level, and can become as tall as 15 cm.
There are many species of violets, which make it hard to identify the particular one you see. The common dog violet can be easily confused with the sweet violet, the main difference is that the latter is scented. This flower is the source of food for some rare species of butterflies, such as silver-washed fritillary, the high brown fritillary and the dark green fritillary. They may also be a place for some butterflies to lay their eggs onto.
Navelwort (Cornán caisil)
Flowers grows up to 25 cm. Associated as a cure for many diseases: “corns”, kidney problems, skin complains, chilblains, jaundice and even tuberculosis. Other common names for this plant given its association to cure kidney problems is kidneyweed or kidneywort.
Bugle (Glasair choille)
Also known as gipsy weed and thunder and lightning. This flower is a source of food for some butterfly species, such as Dark Green and Pearl-Bordered Fritillary Butterflies. It was believed that this plant was a cure for all illnesses, effective in healing wounds, cuts and broken bones.
Hawthorne (Scheach gheal)
The hawthorn is a tree, in particular the whitethorn, very common in Ireland, and is one of the best species for hedging. In May, small white flowers blossom through the branches, for this, hawthorns are also known as may blossoms, it was seen as a symbol for the end of winter.
This tree is a source of food for insects in spring and for birds, such as thrushes, redwings and fieldfares in winter.
Hawthorns are also considered a sacred tree, especially in rural areas. People would even go to the extent of building roads around not to cut this tree. In some parts there was the tradition to decorate this tree with ribbons as a tribute to the fairies in hopes for blessings and good fortune for land and livestock. It is considered bad
Written by Carina Castanheta