Wildflower lovers will find the hedgerows, woods, bogs and grasslands around Westport full of native Irish wildflowers, some found only in the area, some rare, some common – all beautiful. Here are ten wildflowers that you might see while out walking in Westport and its surrounding areas.
Ten Wildflowers to Watch out for in Westport
Wild About Flowers?
1. Wild primrose
Wild primrose, ‘Sabhaircín’ in Irish, is a perennial flowering herb, and one of our most familiar and attractive native wildflowers. From April to early June, its beautiful, pale greenish-yellow petals cascade down the verges of Westport’s boreens, grassy banks, damp woods, hedges and roadsides. Truly plucky despite its impossibly delicate colour, it has even been spotted decorating the weather-battered grassland that hugs Old Head Beach,, near Louisburgh. A welcome sign of spring, and the colourful summer to come.
2. Bee orchid
The keen-eyed walker will get a buzz from spotting the exquisite bee orchid, which has been seen growing wild as close to town as Westport Quay. It might look like something you’d find in a rainforest or some exotic land, but this is a native Irish flower. Three deep-pink sepals spread wide to frame two short, stumpy green petals and a large, distinctive bee-like lower lip. Reddish-brown, furry and patterned with yellow marking, this bumblebee-masquerading lip attracts similar insects to help with pollination. Clever little thing. These orchids tend to flower from during June and July.
3. Wild Garlic
Wild garlic carpets Mayo’s woodland floors during April and May, its eye-catching spherical clusters of star-shaped white flowers bobbing above broad, long, pointed leaves. When picked or bruised, this native plant gives off a very strong smell of garlic, and can be used to add a distinctive taste to salads – or to make a delicious pesto. According to lore, wild garlic was once grown on every farm to prevent disease in cattle. However, this use fell out of favour, as it affected the taste of the milk the cows produced. A great shortcut to garlic butter though!
Setting roadside verges ablaze in late summer into autumn, Montbretia’s showy spikes of bright reddish-orange flowers bloom abundantly in Mayo. Though often thought of as a native flower, it is, in fact, an attractive interloper that was introduced to our shores from South Africa. Still, it is often seen growing alongside our native purple loosestrife, creating a striking colour combination.
5. Purple Loosestrife
This beautiful, upright bright-purple native plant flourishes in ditches, river banks and marshes. Its tall, flashy spikes are a much-loved sight throughout Mayo from June to September. As its name ‘loosestrife’ suggests, ancient herbalists believed it could reduce stress, problems and conflict. A vigorous grower, purple loosestrife is kept in check by a number of specialised insects, including two species of beetle, two species of weevil and one species of moth that feed on it almost exclusively.
6. Mediterranean Heather
If you’re walking or cycling on the Great Western Greenway, be sure to stop off in Mulranny to view the glorious Irish heath, or Mediterranean heather as it is colloquially known. Ireland’s only stand of this beautiful wildflower is found above the seashore in Mulranny. It thrives in the area’s mild climate, and came here during the ice age. Its brittle evergreen foliage offers up deep-pink honey-scented flowers in winter and spring.
7. Narrow-leaved Helleborine
The extremely rare white orchid, the narrow-leaved helleborine (also known as the sword-leaved helleborine) can be found in Brackloon Woods, just outside of Westport, in early summer. If you’re lucky enough to find one of these graceful white orchids, a scattering of which bloom every year in Brackloon Woods, do resist the urge to pick it – this is one of our most threatened orchids. Extinct already in Northern Ireland, this native plant is protected in the Republic of Ireland.
8. Bog Cotton
This evocative native plant bears tiny brown flowers from April and May – but it’s late summer that it really comes into its own. Borne on tall, rigid stems, its little seeds are held in fluffy white tufts that trap warmth and quiver and shake in the breeze, eventually scattering far and wide through bog-land. Called Ceannbhán (‘white head’) in Irish, it is very common in peat or acidic soil and open wetland around Westport. For many generations, the downy, soft heads of bog cotton were used to stuff pillows.
9. The Greater Butterfly Orchid
Found in undisturbed grassland, ancient woods, bogland and limestone heaths, the greater butterfly orchid produces pale lime or creamy flowers on a loose spike from May to June. These elegant and stately flowers grow to around 50 centimetres. Their a heavenly vanilla scent gets stronger at night to attract moths, their main pollinators, which are duly rewarded with a very generous supply of nectar. If you’re lucky enough to find one, cast your eyes about and you will probably find several.
The remarkable sundew adds a drop of the gruesome to the ordinarily genteel world of wildflowers. The beautiful but deadly sundew is often found in Mayo at the edge of bog pools. As nutrients can be hard to come by in these environments, it has developed a taste for flesh. It eats unsuspecting flies, attracting them with sparkling beads of sticky sap, or ‘dew’, at the end of tiny red hairs arranged around pale green leaves. When a fly lands, hoping for a glistening meal, it becomes stuck. More hairs close around the insect, trapping it, and soon the plant sets about digesting its hapless prey. The sundew redeems itself a little in midsummer, when its tiny white flowers emerge. Not much comfort to a fly though!