Thursday Trees – Rowan (An Caorthann)

The Rowan, also known as the Mountain Ash (although it is not a relative of the Ash tree), is a broadleaf, native to Ireland.

Roawn tree on the slopes of Nephin Beg mountain.

Roawn tree on the slopes of Nephin Beg mountain.

The Rowan is peculiar among Irish broadleaves for its tolerance to relatively high altitudes, up to 900 m. For this reason, it is often found up high with the plantation forests of conifer non-natives. It is also quite tolerant of waterlogged locations. Demanding of light, the tree is seen at the edges of conifer plantations, where it is employed to partly disguise the monotonous plantation. It is often seen standing alone on boggy mountain slopes.


Rowan tree,  along The Western Way.

Rowan tree, along The Western Way.

The main attraction of the Rowan are its wonderfully bright orange / red berries, which appear in autumn (as early as early August). The tree has leaves that are similar to those of the Ash, though of a smaller size. They are pinnate and divided into between 5 and 10 leaflets. In autumn, they turn a nice golden yellow colour.


The Trees, The Flowers, The Birds

Of course, what’s really great about this time of the year is how the trees have mostly come into leaf and the lovely wild flowers are covering the ground all around. Meanwhile, the migratory birds are returning.

Interestingly, I was part of a group walking around some trees in Castlebar just this week (as you do), where, among others, the Sycamore was in full leaf. Meanwhile, just one day earlier, no more than 40 km away, I visited some Sycamores as yet without leaf.

Yesterday, I was up at the new Arrowrock Hostel, on the beautiful eastern shore of Lough Arrow, Co. Sligo, where the bluebells cover the ground under their mature Scots Pines.

Sycamore and Primrose, north Mayo

Sycamore and Primrose, north Mayo

On Monday, I was up in Sheskin Forest, where the primrose lords over the hedgerows and damp grassy knolls.

 I love the way my house has a wild hedge on one side of the garden. It gives us wild primrose and dog violets, among others.



Punctually challenged Ash

Punctually challenged Ash

Meanwhile, my Ash trees stubbornly refuse to partake in the whole re-awakening thing …

This photo shows the characteristic black buds in the foreground, with another Ash in the background and Hawthorn plus Ivy in the middle. The Hawthorn is just about to blossom. Admittedly, the black buds of the Ash are beginning to budge at this stage.



The neighbour’s Crab Apple is in full bloom too. It reminds me that each year I ‘allow’ the kids to try the fruit. They’re still too young to remember the experience by the time the next year’s crop comes around.

The swallows are well back by now, as are the House Martins and Cuckoos. The House Martins have been seen in south Mayo for over two weeks, but there’s still no sign of ours. It’s lashing rain outside and the weather is promised bad for the weekend. That’s not good, because I need to paint the outside wall of the house, where our Martins have their nest, before they return. I don’t want to disturb them once they’ve arrived.

Thursday Trees – Ash (An Fuinseóg)

Ash leaves, autumn 2008

Ash leaves, autumn 2008

The Ash is the last of the Irish native trees to get its new leaves each year – generally not arriving until May. I am lucky enough to have three and a half Ash trees in the ditch that forms two sides of my back garden. The “half tree” is now eight years old and I enjoy watching it grow each year and keeping the ivy from climbing its slender trunk.

The Ash has quite slender leaves, aligned in pairs on opposite sides of the stem. As a deciduous tree, it loses its leaves in autumn, although it is one of the more easily recognisable trees in winter when bare. This is thanks to the large black buds it develops during this season.

In Ireland, the Ash grows to around 25 to 30 metres and can have a width of some 20 metres. Of course, its wood, strong and flexible, is used to make hurls (although the wood is now mostly imported from The Baltic States).

Ash tree in autumn, Mayo

Ash tree in autumn, Mayo

Thursday Trees – Oak (An Daire)

Oak leaves, Lough Key Forest Park, Roscommon

Oak leaves, Lough Key Forest Park, Roscommon

A fully mature Oak is certainly one of the most beautiful trees in the Irish or any landscape.

In Ireland, we most typically have the Sessile and the Pedunculate. Acorns on the former have no stalks, while on the latter, they have. Sessile Oak leaves have tiny hairs on the pale underside.

Possibly Ireland’s most famous Oak tree, estimated at 1,000 years old, is the “Brian Boru Oak” in East Co. Clare.

In the picture below, I do believe that’s Andrew St. Ledger ‘posing’.

The Brian Boru Oak, Co. Clare

The Brian Boru Oak, Co. Clare

Thursday Trees – Sycamore (An Seiceamair)

Although non native, the Sycamore can be found all over Ireland and is widespread and numerous. It was introduced to Ireland during the 16th and 17th Centuries.

The Sycamore is a deciduous tree, whose leaves turn beautiful shades of yellow and brown in autumn before falling. It is often found in hedges and in public parks.

Growing up to 35 m, the Sycamore has a 5-lobed leaf, with toothed edges. A member of the Maple family, its fruit is borne in what all young Irish children call ‘helicopters’.

It can be difficult to distinguish the Sycamore from the Field Maple, another non-native. However, the latter generally has three largish lobes towards the top of its leaf, with two distinctly smaller ones at the bottom. The Sycamore’s lobe sizes are less differential. Also, the Sycamore’s ‘helicopter’ has its wings at angles to eachother, while the Field Maple’s form more of a straight line.

The bark on young Sycamores is quite smooth and grey, but turns scaly and begins to break up on older trees.

Sycamore Leaf

Sycamore Leaf

In recent years, Sycamores in Ireland seem to be subject more and more to the Tar Spot, a black fungus on the leaves.

Thursday Trees – Scots Pine (An Péine Albanach)

Scots Pine

Scots Pine

We have three native conifers in Ireland.

The Yew, with its dark foliage and red berries, is traditionally found around graveyards. Its poisonous qualities kept the cattle away from trampling on graves.

The Juniper is most often little more than a sprawling bushy shrub, which grows up to around 3 metres and begs the question as to whether or not it should be considered a tree at all.

The Scots Pine has a characteristic flat top and reddish upper branches, when mature. The timber it produces is known as red deal.

The Scots Pine was one of the earlier forest trees to become established in Ireland, about 9,000 years ago after the last great ice age. It grew on the lower slopes of uplands and mixed with oak and elm. Its spread declined over thousands of years and appears to have died out many hundreds of years ago. Buried Scots Pine stumps are often found in bogs, perhaps killed off by the increasing wetness.

The tree was re-introduced from Scotland during the 18th Century and can grow up to around 35 – 40 metres. Although generally a little smaller in Ireland, nevertheless, it can grow very tall here also. This is due to it being often found alone or in small groups, thus gaining maximum sunlight and moisture.

The bark of the Scots Pine is quite variable, with the young bark on small branches being thin and often orangey red in colour. The bark on the trunk of a mature Scots Pine is more reddy brown and forms plates of up to 5 cm thick, one on top of the other, with deep fissures in between. Lichens often grow in these fissures on the bark (see photo).

Bark of a Scots Pine

Bark of a Scots Pine

The needles grow in pairs, are blue-green in colour and about 5 cm in length. They normally remain on the tree for 2 – 3 years, with the old needles turning yellow in September and October, before they fall.

Thursday Trees – Preamble

Scot's Pines at sunset, Co. Sligo

Scots Pines at sunset, Co. Sligo

A tree is considered to be a large, perennial, woody plant with secondary branches supported by a primary trunk. Most authors consider a tree species as being one which regularly reaches 6 m (20 ft) tall.

A native tree is considered to be one which is present in the region in question today, and has been continuously present in that region since a certain period of time. In the case of Ireland, this is generally taken as being a species that colonised the island during the retreat of ice at the end of the last ice age.

As such, native Irish trees include :

Alder, Crab Apple, Ash, Birch (Silver and Downy), Blackthorn, Cherry (Common and Bird), Elm (Wych), Hawthorn, Hazel, Holly, Juniper, Oak (Sessile and Pedunculate), Poplar (Aspen), Rowan (Mountain Ash), Scots Pine, Strawberry Tree, Whitebeam, Willow (Bay, Eared, Goat and Grey) and Yew.

Well established and well known non-native species, like the Horse Chestnut, Beech and Sycamore, are believed by most to be native also.

Each Thursday, I will endeavour to introduce one of these tress, with photos where possible.