Gorse (Ulex europaeus)

 

‘that kissing is out of fashion when gorse is out of blossom’

 

Few plants make such an impression on our landscape as Gorse. You'll most likely have seen it flowering even if you have not known what it is. It has many common names, Gorse, Furze or Whin and from a distance could be mistaken for other similar yellow flowering plants, although it can be easily identified by its unforgiving spiny prickles.

Gorse has the ability to thrive in most environments, adapting well to our irregular weather, in all conditions. It can be seen on windy cliffs, coastal grasslands, woodland edges, dune landscapes, along roadsides, as hedging, at the edge of fields and wasteland. Gorse will even thrive after a fire as heat helps the seed pods to pop open and disperse the seeds. The remaining burnt stumps will resprout new growth.

This iconic Irish native, also regarded as Belfast’s county flower, is a scruffy, thorny, evergreen shrub that smells of coconut, lives almost everywhere and is remarkably in flower most of the year. Its abundance of flowers are an invaluable source of nectar and pollen and thus especially important to pollinating insects at this time of the year when flowering plants are scarce.

Photo Credit: Paul Hunter 

Historically gorse was extremely important. It was used to thatch roofs and bundles of the wood provided excellent fuel for stoves and cooking. Because it is non- toxic, the wood was used for making cutlery and its resistance to weather and rot meant it was also a hardy material for some garden ornaments. Gorse flowers are edible, high in protein and the sweet coconut fragrance means it’s a great addition for flavouring beer, wine and spirites while the flowers continue to be used to make fruit tea, cordial or syrup. 

Where to find it?

Although it can be seen in most environments, it is less commonly used in parkland. Along the Greenway it’s planted in small groups at the ends of the bridges because of its robust attributes. Here, it will help to prevent erosion, grow fast, flower all year round as well as smelling great! 

Photo Credit: Paul Hunter

The old country saying “When gorse is out of blossom, kissing’s out of fashion”, comes from the fact that with its long flowering season and the three different local species, you are almost always able to find some gorse blossom, somewhere!

Be Part of it…

Its common name ‘Gorse’ comes from the Old English ‘gorst’ which means wasteland - referencing how it was associated and where it was growing.  We hope you agree that this formerly under-appreciated plant can now be seen and understood along the Greenway for all its benefits.

Next time you pass any Gorse listen and you may hear the seeds ‘pop’.