Seven Westport Hedgerow Beauties Now in Bloom

Seven Westport Hedgerow Beauties Now in Bloom

As you walk the byroads and boreens of Mayo, try to rip your eyes away from the scenery that surrounds you and cast your eyes downwards – there, beside your path, you will notice a glorious abundance of wildlife. As there is little native forest left in Ireland, hedgerows are an important substitute for woodland edge habitat. They support a huge range of insect, bird and mammal species, including bats and pine martens, and provide wildlife corridors that allow small animals to move in safety from one habitat to another.

This long hot summer, with its droughts and hose-pipe bans, might have been hard on garden plants, and the country’s fields might be a little less green than usual, but Westport’s hedgerows are yielding a truly spectacular late-July and early-August display. Our blog on Westport’s wildflowers earlier in the year proved to be one of our most popular, so, here are a few more to look out for right now, all in hedgerows.

These majestic sweet-scented native wildflowers rise up through hedgerows to burst from their large protective sheaths from July to September. The hemispherical heads of lacy pale white or pinkish flowers are carried on purplish stems that grow up to two metres high. Members of the carrot family, their nectar is irresistible to bees, butterflies and ladybirds.

Humans enjoy the plant too, as its root and its sweet, fragrant stems and leaves are edible. Angelica stems and leaves can be chopped and added to rhubarb to make it sweet – a healthy alternative to sugar. People once candied the stems and used them to decorate cakes and pastries – perhaps not quite so healthy, but utterly delicious.

Blooming until the end of August, bright purplish-blue Tufted Vetch flower spikes are a lovely addition to our hedgerows, and a much-loved food source for the many bees, butterflies and other insects they sustain.

Long, delicate tendrils emerge from the top of ladder-like leaves with eight to twelve pairs of leaflets. These fine tendrils then branch and gently wrap themselves around other plants, helping the vetch to scramble along and climb as high as two metres. A member of the pea family, this silky plant produces brown, hairless seedpods, each containing a collection of seeds, or ‘peas’.

For hundreds of years, tufted vetch also provided fodder for cattle.

This little wildflower has pale or bright yellow, occasionally pinky-purple, tubular flowers around 15 to 20mm long, arranged in pairs.

Don’t let these demurely nodding flowerheads fool you though. This is a semi-parasitic plant that feeds off the nutrients in its neighbours’ roots. On the upside, it has been said that when cows eat this plant, the butter made from their milk is particularly delicious.

Watch out for it in sheltered hedgerows and along woodland walks, such as Brackloon Woods just outside Westport.

Currently abundantly blooming along Wesport’s backroads and laneways, meadowsweet creates great big billowy clouds of soft cream. So romantic.

Bees love to visit the flowers, attracted by their heavy sweet scent. It’s a bit of a raw deal for the insects though. In spite of their gorgeous fragrance, the flowers produce no nectar, and so the bees are unrewarded, their stop-offs serving only to fertilise the plants, which are loaded with pollen. In another twist, the leaves of meadowsweet have a scent that is entirely different to the flowers. Weirdly, they smell of almonds.

In the 19th century, it was discovered that isolated salicylic acid could be harvested from Meadowsweet. The acid was a disinfectant, a painkiller and an anti-inflammatory, but hard on the stomach. However, after it was later synthesised, it was sold in tablet form as aspirin – ‘a’ for acetyl and ‘–spirin’ for Spirea, the plant’s botanical name.

Resembling little thistles without the thorns, these little plants bear beautiful bright purple flower heads on dark brown stubs, perched atop blueish green stems and leaves.

A great nectar and pollen provider, it attracts a host of insects, including bees, butterflies and beetles. Once pollinated, its seeds will feed birds, including goldfinches.

Common knapweed was traditionally used to treat flesh wounds, bleeding gums, catarrh and sore throats. It is said that ancient physicians mixed it with other herbs to create antidotes for snake bites (a complaint that was more permanently sorted by Saint Patrick!).

Possibly one of our best-loved wildflowers, honeysuckle is currently showering our hedgerows with heavenly scented blooms. Its creamy long-petaled flowers turn pale yellow after pollination, often with a lovely pinkish-red to plum-coloured outside, while their stems become silvery-grey as the summer wanes.

This deciduous woody climber rambles and twines its way over and through the hedgerows, and is a true friend of winged creatures big and small. By day, it’s pollinated by bees, while at night moths are attracted by the wonderful aroma. Our native elephant hawkmoth, so beautifully patterned in pink and muted green, is a regular nocturnal visitor in search of nectar.

In autumn it provides shelter and clusters of berries for a host of birds, including thrushes and bullfinches.

Closer to the ground you’ll find bird’s-foot trefoil, an endearing little plant that has been bestowed a myriad of names – up to 70 have been recorded – including ‘lady’s slipper’ and ‘Dutchman’s clogs’, which refer to the shape of the flowers. Other names, such as ‘bird’s foot’ and ‘crow toes’, refer to its long, dark seed pods, which look very like bird’s feet. Rather less-appealingly, the seed pods also inspired the nickname ‘Granny’s Toenails’.

The plant’s tiny yolk-yellow floral clusters are often patterned with streaks of red (giving rise to another one of its names, ‘eggs and bacon’).

Apparently, it reduces methane output in ruminants. That’s cow wind, to you and me.