Flora

Botanically, the Burren is one of the most fascinating regions in Western Europe with plants normally found in widely separate parts of the continent growing alongside each other. Thus mountains avens, a species usually found in sub-arctic and mountainous areas, can be found alongside such southern European species as bloody cranesbill and the dense-flowered orchid whose distribution is centred on the Mediterranean. In addition, plants ordinarily associated with acidic conditions such as heathers grow abundantly on the Burren limestone and plants typical of woodland flora commonly grown in open conditions.

Among the many varied and beautiful flowers which have come to symbolise the Burren are spring gentian, mountain avens, shrubby cinquefoil and bloody cranesbill and, on the higher terraces, the hoary rock rose. These can all be found in the park flowering in the spring and summer months.

Many orchid species flourish here also, twenty-three of Ireland’s twenty-seven orchid species can be found in the Park. The first of these to flower each spring are the early purple orchid and the dense-flowered orchid. Other orchid species here include fly orchid, bee orchid, butterfly orchid and four species of helleborine of which the rare sword-leaved helleborine is the most notable.

Please do not pick any of the plants or flowers you see in the National Park and the Burren.

75% of the plants found in Ireland are represented in the flora of the Burren. Some of the rarer plants are protected under European Legislation, more under the 1999 Flora Protection Order. By leaving the plants in situ you are helping to protect the ecosystem, and leave it for others to appreciate. Hopefully if the plants are appreciated in their natural habitat they will still be there for future generations.

Orchids in the Burren National Park

Autumn Lady’s Tresses

Scientific Name : Spiranthes spiralis

Irish Name: Cúilín muire

Description: This orchid can be locally abundant and is one of a few orchids which overwinter as a rosette. The spike is densely covered with white hairs and flowers in a single spiral twist. Sepals and petals are oblong white in colour with green tinges, forming a tube with the dorsal petal and lip giving the flower its characteristic shape. The labellum is long and channel shaped with white frilled margins and a lime green centre. This orchid is pollinated by bumblebees which first visit the lower flower on the steam before moving upwards following the spiral arrangement to the other flowers.      

Where to find in the park: Found on calcareous grassland, limestone pavement and cliff tops.

When to see: Flowers from August to September

Bee Orchid

Scientific Name:Ophrys apifera

Irish Name:Magairlín na mbeach

Description:An unmistakable plant, with its bright-pink spreading sepals and brown-coloured labellum which very closely resembles a bumblebee. This remarkable example of biomimicry aids the plant in pollination; by mimicking a female bee, male bees will be attracted to the flower, and try to mate with it, thus distributing pollen. However, the species of bee which carries out this pollination does not occur in Ireland, and so bee orchids here are self-pollinated.

Where to find in the park:Found on calcareous grassland.

When to see:Flowers from May to July.

Bird’s-nest orchid

Scientific Name :  Neottia nidusavis

Irish Name: Magairlín neide éin

Description: An unmistakable orchid being the only saprophytic orchid to grow in Ireland. Quite unique leaves are reduced to sheathing scales and lacks chlorophyll. Flowers are numerous yellowish to brown in colour, contrast with the golden yellow coloured pollinia, flowers have a honey scent. Labellum is forked and deeply divided into two rounded lobes. 

Where to find in the park: Found in mixed deciduous woodland.

When to see: Flowers Late April to July

Broad-leaved Helleborine

Scientific Name : Epipactis helleborine

Irish Name: Ealabairín

Description: Quite a variable plant in colour and height which is determined by the habitat the plant is found in. Plants occurring in open habitats tend to have dark red flowers and are much higher than the duller pink and smaller woodland plants. Plants in shaded habitats also tend to have fewer flowers compared to plants in open habitats. Leaves are broad oval in shape and are heavily ribbed arranged in a spiral pattern up the steam. Broad leaved helleborine plants are pollinated by a variety of insects which get drink after feeding on the nectar. Often insects are seen flying disorientated or scrambling at the base of the plant after feeding.       

Where to find in the park: Found on limestone pavement, woodland and scree at high and low elevations.  

When to see: Flowers from July to September

Common Spotted-Orchid

Scientific Name : Dactylorhiza fuchsii

Irish Name: Nuacht bhallach

Description: The Common Spotted-orchid is the most variable orchid species which grows in the National Park. The plants range from white, light pink and dark pink in colour with a varying combination of pink/purple dot and dash markings on the flower. Similarly the plant varies in height with oblong lanceolate leaves with varying amounts of brown/purple spots, sometimes unspotted. The trident shaped lip is the characteristic feature of the common spotted orchids with the central tooth longer than the two side lobes.       

Where to find in the park: Found on dry and wet grassland, woodland, marshes and fen throughout the park.

When to see: Flowers from May to August

Common Twayblade

Scientific Name : Neottia ovata

Irish Name: Dédhuilleog

Description: Unmistakable orchid with one opposite pair of very broad ribbed, ovate leaves which clasp to the steam near the base. Flowers are yellowish to green in colour sometimes with red/brown tinges. Sepals and petals are incurved forming a hood. The forked tongue of its lip has a central nectar producing grove which attracts pollinators. The arrival of a pollinating insect activates the internal explosion of the rostellum, which rapidly fires the pollinia on the visiting insect.         

Where to find in the park: Found in woodland and grassland of calcareous and slightly acidic soil.

When to see: Flowers from April to July

Dark-red helleborine

Scientific Name :  Epipactis atrorubens

Irish Name: Cuaichín dearg

Description: An attractive plant with spikes of flowers which vary from rich purplish- to greenish-red. Leaves are broad, keeled (boat-shaped) and stalkless. A Burren speciality, this plant is not found anywhere else in Ireland.

Where to find in the park: Grows in crevices on limestone pavement.

When to see: Flowers from July to August.

Dense Flowered orchid

Scientific Name : Neotinea maculata

Irish Name: Magairlín glas

Description: A dense flowering orchid with almost closed hoods formed by the sepals and petals with a very prominent central lobe of the labellum. Flowers can be white or pinkish in colour, sepals sometimes spotted. The plant has two to six elliptical basal leaves sometimes with pink/brown spots. The most common variety are plants with white flowers and dark green leaves both with no markings. The Dense flowered orchid is one of the National Parks Mediterranean plants growing outside its typical range alongside Alpine and Artic species.   

Where to find in the park: Found on Limestone pavement, calcareous and dry grassland. Also found in woodland throughout the Burren, which is a more typical habitat of the plants southern Mediterranean range.  

When to see: Flowers from April to June

Early-Purple Orchid

Scientific Name : Orchis mascula

Irish Name: Magairlín meidhreach

Description: One of the first flowering plants of the spring often found in woodland with other early plants. This plant has a wide variation in colour and leaf markings especially among plants on rocky or open habitats which lack spots on their leaves. The flowers are typically reddish-purple in colour with some pink and rarer white variations. Flowers can be loosely or densely spaced on the flowering steam. The upturned spur and lack of green veining on the sepals help distinguish the Early-Purple orchid from other Irish orchid species.    

Where to find in the park: Early-purple orchids are found in meadows, limestone pavement, around hedge borders and in woodland throughout the park.

When to see: Flowers from April to June

Flecked Marsh-Orchid

Scientific Name : Dactylorhiza cruenta

Irish Name: Magairlín craorag

Description: Quite a tall orchid with dark purple flowers. Distinguished from other members of the Dactylorhiza genus by the plants leaves. Leaves are firmly clasped to the steam giving the appearance of a narrow silhouette further enhancing the length of the plant. The leaves are heavily marked with brown/purple spots occurring on both sides of the leaf. Most typically found in Alpine and Artic areas the populations of this plant in Ireland and the United Kingdom are not clearly understood and may be a species in its own right.      

Where to find in the park: Flecked Marsh orchids are found along marshes and lake edges in full sunlight.

When to see: Flowers from May to July

Fly Orchid

Scientific Name : Ophrys insectifera

Irish Name: Magairlín na gcuileanna

Description: An excellent example of mimicry, this plant goes to extreme lengths to trick male wasps into thinking its flower is a female of the species in order to distribute its pollen; not only does the flower very closely resemble the insect, it also produces a scent which mimics the sex pheromone of the wasp. Young male wasps are thus easily tricked into thinking that the flower is a female wasp and will attempt to mate with it. In doing so, the insect inadvertently picks up the flower's pollinia (pollen sacs), which stick to its furry back and may be dropped off at the next flower.

Where to find in the park: Found on calcareous grassland, wet meadows, limestone pavement and fens.

When to see: Flowers from May-June.

Fragrant Orchid

Scientific Name : Gymnadenia conopsea

Irish Name: Lus taghla

Description: This orchid has a wide variation in height which is dictated by the surrounding habitat. The flower is commonly pink, some individual are red/pink and purple in colour. Flowers are arranged in a dense spike. Lateral sepals spread horizontal or slightly bending downwards. Dorsal sepals and petals curve inwards forming a hood. The labellum is wide and made up of three rounded lobes. Leaves are unspotted, narrow and oblong-lanceolate. As the name suggest the Fragrant orchid are heavily scented which can be experienced during the day and night. The long slender spur of the plant contains copious nectar which suites insects with long tongues such as butterflies.         

Where to find in the park: Found throughout the park on Limestone pavement and dry calcareous meadows.

When to see: Flowers from June to July

Frog Orchid

Scientific Name : Ophrys insectifera

Irish Name: Magairlín an ioscáin

Description: Often over looked due to their short size and colouring which blend in with the surrounding vegetation. Flowers are green with tinges of brown/dark red colouring. The outer sepals form a loose hood with the reminder sepals coloured dark red, which enclose the long, strap shaped labellum. The labellum is green in colour with three lobes at its tip, the middle lobe much shorter and tooth like compared to the two oblong outer lobes. The plant is made up of two to six dark green basal leaves, blunt and oblong in shape.

Where to find in the park: Found on Limestone pavement, unimproved pasture and wet grassland.

When to see: Flowers from June to August

Greater Butterfly Orchid

Scientific Name : Platanthera chlorantha

Irish Name: Magairlín mór an fhéileacáin

Description: Flowers are white with some tinges of green. The lateral sepals are lanceolate spread wide in a downwards direction. The other sepals form a hood with the petals. Both the Lesser and Greater butterfly orchid can look quite similar. However, the Greater butterfly orchid has its own unique features. The labellum is long and tapers downwards becoming green at the tip. The pollen stalks are long and lean towards each other at their tips and diverge at their bases.

Where to find in the park: Found on calcareous pastures.

When to see: Flowers from May to July

Heath Spotted-Orchid

Scientific Name : Dactylorhiza maculata

Irish Name: Na Circíní

Description: The flower is light pink or white in colour. The principle characteristics of the plant are the large side lobes of the lip which give a frilled effect. The labellum is wedged shaped, projecting at 45 degree angles to the larger side lobes. Leaves are narrow linear-lancolate shaped, pale green or yellow/green in colour.   

Where to find in the park: Heath spotted-orchids are found in wet meadows, heath and acidic grasslands.

When to see: Flowers from May to July

Lesser Butterfly Orchid

Scientific Name : Platanthera bifolia

Irish Name: Magairlín beag an fhéileacáin

Description: Flowers are white with some tinges of green. The lateral sepals are lanceolate spread wide in a downwards direction. The other sepals form a hood with the petals. The pollen stalks are arranged vertically and parallel to each other. They are situated at the opening to the spur, which is the distinguishing feature of the lesser butterfly orchid. The two lower leaves are blunt, elliptical in shape, pointing upwards and dark green in colour.    

Where to find in the park: Found on limestone pavement and rough pasture.

When to see: Flowers from May to July

Marsh Helleborine

Scientific Name :   Epipactis palustris

Irish Name: Cuaichín corraig

Description: Sepals are pointed with a green tinge, dark purple-red on the outside and redder on the inside. Petals are shorter, white in colour with pink tinges. The labellum is long, white in colour and divided by a concave fold. The epichile is attached by a narrow hinge. It is broad, white in colour with frilled edges and two yellow raised ridges, making the Marsh Helleborine unmistakeable.      

Where to find in the park: Found on calcareous marshes, fens and lake shores.

When to see: Flowers June to September

Narrow-leaved helleborine

Scientific Name : Cephalanthera longifolia

Irish Name: Cuaichín caol

Description: Sepals and petals are of equal length that forms a hood, pure white in colour. The labellum is heart shaped with fine hairs, white in colour with a patch of orange on the base. Leaves are pale green, long and narrow pointed at the tip, arranged in distinctive opposite ranks.

Where to find in the park: Found in deciduous woodland and woodland edges.

When to see: Flowers May to June

O’Kelly’s Spotted-Orchid

Scientific Name : Dactylorhiza fuchsii var. okellyi

Irish Name: Nuacht bhallach O’Ceallaigh

Description: A pure white flower with pigmentation totally lacking except for a faint tinge of pink at the base of the labellum. The plants tend to occur singly or in groups of two. Leaves are long and narrow, light green in colour with no spots. This plants is named after Patrick B. O’Kelly an amateur botanist from Ballyvaughan Co. Clare who was first to describe this subspecies.  

Where to find in the park: Throughout the park found on calcareous grassland and limestone pavement.

When to see: Flowers from July to August

Pyramidal Orchid

Scientific Name : Anacamptis pyrimidalis

Irish Name: Magairlín na stuaice

Description: One of the most common species of orchids found in Ireland. Young flowers are typically dark pink/magenta later becoming paler pink in colour. They are also some uncommon variations of white and red flowers. Young plants have a dense flowered pyramidal/conical spike which later becomes more cylindrical in shape. The labellum is wide made up of three equal oblong lobes which are rounded. The raised ridges of the lip guide the proboscis of pollinating butterfly and moths to the nectar inside the spur. The Pyramidal orchid is often described as having a foxy scent.        

Where to find in the park: Found on calcareous grassland, limestone pavement, scree and roadside verges.

When to see: Flowers from Late-June to August


Other Flower Species

Autumn Gentian, Felwort

Scientific Name : Gentianella amarella

Irish Name: Muilcheann

Description: Autumn Gentian is a late flowering biennial were the leaves grow in the first year and flowers in the second year. Flowers are purple made up of 5 petals which branch from a reddish stem on short stalks. Leaves are opposite oval-lanceolate in shape with basal leaves in a rosette in the first year.    

Folklore / Traditional Uses: Parts of this plant are used in Bach flower remedies for the treating of depression, but also used as a herbal bitter in the treatment of digestive disorders.

Where to find in the park: Found on calcareous grassland.

When to see: Flowers from August to October

Bell Heather

Scientific Name : Erica cinerea

Irish Name: Fraoch cloigíneach

Description: A short hairless evergreen shrub, flowers are purple occasionally white, bell shaped on short spikes. Leaves are dark green, narrow, in whorls of 3 up the stem.

Folklore / Traditional Uses: Bell heather with white flowers is considered to bring good luck. In the past heathers have been used in bedding material, fuel, food stuffs for sheep, and in the flavouring of beer and honey.   

Where to find in the park: Found on heath and peaty areas which occur intermittently on the limestone pavement.

When to see: Flowers from June to September

Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Common

Scientific Name : Lotus corniculatus

Irish Name: Crobh éin

Description: A small perennial with small yellow flowers sometimes tinged or streaked with red and orange marks. Stems carry 2 to 7 small flowers in an umbel. Leaves are alternate and pinnate. The distinctive seedpods which give the plant its name are long, black, slender pods which resemble a bird’s foot.  

Where to find in the park: Found on calcareous grassland, hay meadows, heath and cliffs.

When to see: Flowers June to September

Bitter Vetch

Scientific Name : Lathyrus linifolius

Irish Name: Corra meille

Description: A rather elegant-looking plant with short racemes of delicate flowers, ranging in colour from pink to mauve upon first flowering, fading to blue-green as the flower ages. Leaves with 2-4 pairs of narrow-oblong leaflets.

Folklore / Traditional Uses: There is evidence to suggest that this plant was used in Scotland as an appetite suppressor after crop failure in medieval times. Apparently, King Charles II of England made use of its appetite-suppressant properties by administering it to his mistress, Nell Gwynn, in order to help maintain her figure!

Where to find in the park: Common on the patches of peat which form on the limestone pavement in the Burren National Park.

When to see: Flowers from April to July.

Bloody Crane’s-bill

Scientific Name : Geranium sanguineum

Irish Name: Crobh Dearg

Description: Part of the Burren’s ‘Mediterranean’ element, this plant usually occurs in warmer climes, but here it is found alongside arctic-alpine species such as Mountain Avens and Mountain Everlasting. Bloody Crane’s-bill is found in other parts of Ireland, so is not considered to be a ‘speciality species’ of the Burren, but is notable for its abundance in the area; the striking, bright-pink flowers are ubiquitous on roadsides, in fields and on limestone pavement in summertime.

The flowers are a deep magenta in colour, approximately 4cm across, with five petals. The leaves are dark green shade, round and deeply lobed. The name ‘bloody crane’s-bill’ is derived from the fact that in autumn, the leaves turn a blood-red colour and fruit capsule becomes elongated, similar to the bill of a crane.

Where to find in the park: Abundant and very easy to find; occurs in most open habitats, e.g. grasslands, limestone pavement and grassy verges.

When to see: Begins flowering in May and continues to flower into September.

Carline Thistle

Scientific Name : Carlina vulgaris

Irish Name: Feochadán mín

Description: A very distinctive plant, with its spiky 'sunburst' appearance with a brownish-yellow flower head comprising tiny 'florets', some of which are purple in colour, surrounded by a ring of yellow bracts, which are similar to the rays of the sun.

Folklore / Traditional Uses: This plant was known for its antiseptic properties and was used to treat wounds and skin conditions. Its name is derived from a folk tale about Emperor Charlemagne, who was purportedly visited by an angel who showed him how to use this plant to cure an epidemic of plague which was devastating his army; in German, Charlemagne’s name was Karl der Grosse, or Carl the Great.

Additionally, this plant was once used in weather forecasting; the flower head closes when the air becomes more humid, which indicate that rain and bad weather may be imminent.

Where to find in the park: This plant may be found on limestone pavements and in calcareous grasslands throughout the park.

When to see: Flowers in late summer, from July to September, but a 'skeleton' of the plant persists into wintertime.

Centaury, Common

Scientific Name : Centaurium erythraea

Irish Name: Dréimire mhuire

Description: A pink annual with 5 petalled flowers in terminal clusters and on side shoots. Leaves are ovate with lower leaves forming a basal rosette. Height variable from 5 to 50cm depending on the habitat. Flowers only open in full sunshine. Anthers twist at time of fruiting.        

Folklore / Traditional Uses: The whole plant is bitter to taste and can help to cure edema (accumulation of fluid in tissue around the feet, ankles and legs).

Where to find in the park: Found on calcareous grassland.

When to see: Flowers from July to September

Cowslip

Scientific Name : Primula veris

Irish Name: Bainne bó bleachtáin

Description: Tall, erect stems with drooping clusters of bright yellow flowers. This species commonly hybridises with Primrose (Primula vulgaris) where the two grow in close proximity, producing the hybrid False Oxlip (Primula x polyantha). An early-flowering species; along with primroses and dandelions, these pretty flowers form a carpet of yellow in the meadows throughout the park in springtime.

Folklore / Traditional Uses: The German name for this plant is ‘keys of heaven’, referring to the drooping clusters of pretty flowers. In the past, extracts of cowslip flowers and leaves were used in traditional medicine, and in cosmetics. Shakespeare refers to cowslips in A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

"The cowslips tall her pensioners be;

In their gold coats spots you see,

These be rubies, fairy flavours,

In those freckles live their savours...

I must go seek some dew-drops here,

And hang a pearl in every cowslip's ear."

Where to find in the park: Abundant in the meadows throughout the park.

When to see: Flowers May to June.

Devil's-bit Scabious

Scientific Name : Succisa pratensis

Irish Name: Odhrach bhallach

Description: Mauve/blue-coloured florets, clustered into tight flowerheads at the top of a long stem. Ovate leaves form a basal rosette. Devil's-bit scabious is the food plant of the Marsh Fritillary butterfly, Ireland's only legally-protected insect species and its late-flowering blossoms are an important source of nectar for late-flying bees, butterflies, hoverflies. The critically-endangered bee Andrena marginata is dependent on this plant's pollen and nectar to line its nest.

Folklore / Traditional Uses: Plant species with the name Scabious, including Devil's-bit and field scabious, were once used to treat Scabies, a skin irritation caused by a mite living under the skin. Devil's-bit scabious had a range of other medicinal uses; a tea was made using this plant which was used for the treatment of coughs, fevers and internal inflammations. In folklore, its short black root is said to have been bitten off by the devil, who was angered by its usefulness in treating a wide range of ailments. 

Where to find in the park: Devil's-bit scabious may be found in grassy habitats. In late summer, this plant creates a blue haze in the meadows throughout the park.

When to see: Flowers from July to September.

Dropwort

Scientific Name : Filipendula vulgaris

Irish Name: Lus Broanach

Description: Another Burren ‘speciality’, this plant is restricted in its Irish distribution to eastern County Clare and south-western Galway. Very similar to its more widespread cousin, meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), this plant has a more slender appearance, with erect stems to 50cm with panicles of creamy-white flowers. Individual flowers are larger than those of meadowsweet, and are sometimes tinged pink. The leaves are also quite different, each with 8-20 pairs of narrow, deeply-pinnate, leaflets.

Folklore / Traditional Uses: The young leaves and roots can be eaten, though these are not very palatable and are only eaten during food shortages. This plant was also used in the treatment of epilepsy, kidney and bladder stones.

Where to find in the park: This plant can be found on limestone pavements throughout the park.

When to see: Flowers in June to July.

Eyebrights

Scientific Name : Euphrasia officinale agg.

Irish Name: Glanrosc

Description: Squat, branching plants with small toothed leaves. Flowers white-mauve with yellow blotches, which act as a guide for pollinating insects.

Over 20 species of Eyebrights occur in Ireland, and these require expert identification; as the species often self-pollinates, it produces genetically clones of itself, allowing genetic mutations to be easily passed down, aiding in the process of speciation. The Irish Eyebright (Euphrasia salisburgensis) stands out from other eyebright species, with bronze-coloured stems and leaves. This species is highly unusual in its distribution. In Ireland, it is only found in the west, and it is completely absent from Britain. Beyond Ireland it is only found in the mountains of central Europe. As such it is considered as part of Ireland’s Lusitanian Flora.

All eyebrights are semi-parasitic, absorbing water and nutrients from other plants, including clovers, plantains and grasses.

Folklore / Traditional Uses: Its name is derived from its traditional use in treating eye ailments. To this day, certain species of eyebright are used in herbal medicine for treating conditions such as conjunctivitis.

Where to find in the park: Eyebrights are widespread in the park, found in open areas, in grasslands and on limestone pavement. Watch out for Irish Eyebright (Euphrasia salisburgensis) on limestone pavements; as it is a parasite of wild thyme (Thymus polytrichus) (link), and so is often found near this species.

When to see: Flowers from June to October.

Garlic, wild/ramsons

Scientific Name : Allium ursinum

Irish Name: Creamh

Description: You will probably smell this plant before you see it – as the name suggests, it has a very strong smell of garlic, especially when crushed. It has star-shaped white flowers in clusters at the top of erect, slender stems. Leaves are oblong-oval and pointed, on long stalks at the base of the stem.

Folklore / Traditional Uses: This plant has always been highly valued for its culinary use, and was highly valued as a condiment in medieval times; under the Irish 8th-century legal tract Bretha Comaithchesa or ‘laws of the neighbourhood’, there was a fine of two and a half milch cows for picking wild garlic on someone else’s land!

Where to find in the park: Wild garlic grows in damp, shaded areas, such as woodlands and riversides.

When to see: Flowers from March to May.

Grass of Parnassus

Scientific Name : Parnassia palustris

Irish Name: Fionnscoth

Description: While this flower is not as eye-catching as some of the more brightly-coloured Burren plants, a closer look will reveal its delicate and simple beauty. The solitary white flowers each have five petals with translucent veins. The leaves are heart-shaped, occurring in a basal rosette.

Folklore / Traditional Uses: Carl Linnaeus, the 18th century Swedish botanist and so-called ‘Father of Taxonomy’, thought that this plant was so beautiful that he named it after Mount Parnassus, a limestone mountain in Greece. In Greek mythology, Mount Parnassus was the home of the Muses, the goddesses of the inspiration of literature, science and the arts.

Where to find in the park: This plant may be found in base-rich flushes and damp grassland.

When to see: Flowers from June to September.

Harebell

Scientific Name : Campanula rotundifolia

Irish Name: Méaracán gorm

Description: A delicate plant with beautiful, cup-shaped, pale-blue flowers which may be seen nodding in the breeze on roadsides throughout the Burren in late summer.

Folklore and Traditional Uses: The Irish name, Méaracán gorm, means ‘blue thimble’, referring to the blue, cup-shaped flowers. This plant was also associated with fairies, and it was considered bad luck to pick the flowers. It’s other Irish name, Méaracán púca, means ‘ghost thimble’ or alternatively ‘goblin thimble’.

Where to find in the park: Harebell is abundant throughout the meadow and grassy verge habitats in the Burren National Park.

When to see: Flowers Mid July to September

Hoary rock-rose

Scientific Name : Helianthemum oelandicum

Irish Name: Grianrós liath

Description: This is another species which is considered to be a ‘speciality’ of the Burren, as in Ireland it only occurs in the Burren and on one of the Aran Islands, and is completely absent from Britain. Outside the British Isles, its distribution is concentrated in southern Europe, in the mountainous regions of the Meditteranean. As its distribution outside the Burren is limited to high altitudes, it is considered part of the arctic-alpine element of the Burren flora.

This is a prostrate, i.e. low-growing, plant with small, narrow leaves in opposite pairs and dainty yellow flowers which only open in sunlight.

Where to find in the park: This species can be found on limestone pavement within the Park.

When to see: Flowers appear from April to July, depending on climatic conditions.

Note: Under the 1999 Flora (Protection) Order, this plant is protected in the Republic of Ireland which means that the picking, uprooting, sale or possession is prohibited, except under licence.

Lady’s Bedstraw

Scientific Name : Galium verum

Irish Name: Bolach cnis

Description: A short and sprawling perennial with small yellow, 4 petalled flowers arranged in a leafy cluster on branched, square stems. Leaves are narrow, dark green, with rolled back margins, 8 to 12 per whorl. 

Folklore / Traditional Uses: Traditionally used to stuff mattresses, due to the chemical properties of the plant which act as a natural bedbug pesticide. In folklore the plant is associated with the Virgin Mary; it is believed that she lay on a bed of bedstraw during the nativity. The association with bedstraw and birth stems from Norse mythology were Frigg the goddess of married women helped women through child birth, during which the Scandinavians used the plant as a sedative.       

Where to find in the park: Found on calcareous grassland, hay meadows and cliff tops.

When to see: Flowers from June to September

Ling heather

Scientific Name : Calluna vulgaris

Irish Name: Fraoch mór

Description: A dense shrub with spikes of small pinkish-purple flowers. Leaves are also very small and somewhat crowded along the stem. This plant is known as a calcifuge species (i.e. it does not grow in lime-rich areas), usually found in acidic habitats, such as bogs and heaths, and so its presence in the Burren, which is underlain by limestone, is somewhat of an anomaly. In the Burren, ling grows on peaty substrates which form in hollows on the limestone pavement.

Folklore / Traditional Uses: Ling was used for flavouring "leann fraoich" (heather beer) in the middle ages, before the use of hops.

Where to find in the park: On peaty areas which occur intermittently on the limestone pavement.

When to see: Flowers July to September.

Marjoram

Scientific Name : Origanum vulgare

Irish Name: Máirtín fiáin

Description: A very aromatic plant; this is in fact the species which is commonly called ‘oregano’ when cultivated for culinary use (its close relative, Origanum majorana is the herb which is referred to as marjoram in culinary use). This plant has clusters of small pink flowers and dark purple/brown buds, on erect stems with slightly hairy oval leaves – very similar to what you might have growing in your herb garden!

Folklore / Traditional Uses: This plant has been used for cooking for centuries, especially in Italian and Greek cuisine. Hippocrates used oregano as an antiseptic, and as a cure for stomach and respiratory ailments. This herb has been shown to have strong antioxidant properties, due to a high content of phenolic acids and flavonoids.

Where to find in the park: Very common on grassy roadside verges and in meadows.

When to see: Flowers from July to September.

Milkwort, Common

Scientific Name : Polygala vulgaris

Irish Name: Lus an bhainne

Description: Milkwort has racemes of small delicate flowers which are usually the same bright blue colour as spring gentian, with which it may be confused at a distance. A closer look reveals the huge differences in flower structure however; spring gentian has regular flowers (i.e. it is radially symmetrical with all petals the same size), while milkwort flowers are irregular (i.e. not radially symmetrical, with petals of varying size and shape), and quite elegant, with a feathery ‘trumpet’ and wings. Some variations have magenta or white flowers. Leaves are small and alternate up the stem – a distinguishing feature between this species and Heath Milkwort (Polygala vulgaris), which has opposite leaves.

Folklore / Traditional Uses: Its name, milkwort, comes from the fact that this plant was traditionally used to make an infusion which, when ingested, would help to increase the flow of mothers’ milk.

Where to find in the park: Milkwort is a very common sight throughout the park, in grasslands and on limestone pavements.

When to see: Flowers from May to July 

Mossy Saxifrage

Scientific Name: Saxifraga hypnoides

Irish Name: Mórán caonaigh

Description: This is a small plant which can grow up to 20cm in height. Small white flowers (10 to 15mm across) with slightly overlapping green veined petals, five in total. The plant is mat forming growing on rocky outcrops, cliffs and scree. Basel rosette leaves made up of 3 to 5 narrow pointed lobes give this plant a mossy appearance.     

Folklore / Traditional Uses: Saxifraga is Latin for stone breaker. It was first believed that this name was describing the cracks in rock were Saxifraga species commonly grow, and that there roots may be causing the rocks to break. But it was then discovered that this plant can be used in the treatment of urinary calculi commonly known as kidney stones.

Where to find in the park: On rock ledges, cliffs and scree.

When to see: Flowers May to August.

Mountain Avens

Scientific Name : Dryas octopetala

Irish Name: Leathín

Description: One of the Burren ‘specialities’, this plant forms carpets on limestone pavement and grasslands. Its flowers have a yellow centre and white petals which usually occur in multiples of eight, hence its latin name ‘octopetala’, which means ‘eight petals’. ‘Dryas’ refers to its leaves, which resemble tiny oak leaves; ‘dryas’ means ‘oak’ in Greek.

In Ireland, Mountain Avens is restricted to the Burren, where it is locally abundant, and several locations in Northern Ireland, where it is occasional on mountainsides. It is considered part of the arctic/alpine element of the Burren flora, being usually found in more northerly latitudes and in the high mountains of Europe. In the Burren, this plant occurs at sea level, alongside plants which usually have a more southerly distribution (the ‘Mediterranean’ element), such as bloody cranesbill and dense-flowered orchid.

Folklore and Traditional Uses: The stems of Mountain Avens are quite woody, and there is evidence that this plant was used as a fuel source during the 1800s.

Where to find in the park: Mountain Avens are easy to find throughout the park, forming dense mats on limestone pavement and grasslands.

When to see: The main flowering season is in late spring/early summer, with a second flowering period in late summer/autumn (Late April to June and Late July to September). After flowering, the plant produces very distinctive large, fluffy seed-heads.

Mountain-everlasting/Cat’s-paw

Scientific Name : Antennaria dioeca

Irish Name: Catluibh

Description: A small, creeping perennial herb which is considered to be one of the real ‘Burren specialities’, its distribution limited to this part of Ireland. Known by two names: Mountain Everlasting and Cat’s-paw; the former referring to the fact that it is a perennial plant which normally occurs in northern or montane regions, the latter describing its soft, five-headed flower clusters, which very closely resemble the paw of a kitten when observed from above. Its specific name, dioeca, refers the fact that it is ‘dioecious’, meaning that individual plants produce either male or female flowers; in general, male flowers are white while female flowers are, suitably, pink!

Where to find in the park: Abundant in grasslands and on limestone pavement and edges of woodland.

When to see: Flowers May to June.

Primrose

Scientific Name : Primula vulgaris

Irish Name: Sabhaircín

Description: Solitary flowers (one on a stem); pale yellow with a dark yellow centre. Basal rosette of dark green leaves with a crumpled appearance. Flowers have a very distinctive sweet scent.

Folklore / Traditional Uses: In early medicine, primrose was used in the treatment of muscular rheumatism, paralysis and gout.

Where to find in the park: Abundant in woodlands, hedgerows, grassy verges and even on open limestone pavement in springtime. 

When to see: One of the earliest flowers to appear, these lovely flowers, along with daffodils and swallows, herald the onset of spring. The main flowering period is May/June, but flowers may appear as early as late winter, hence its scientific name; Primula, in latin, means early.

Shrubby Cinquefoil

Scientific Name : Potentilla fruticosa

Irish Name: Tor cúigmhéarach

Description: A twiggy shrub which grows up to 1m tall. Leaves are greyish-green and pinnate, with 5-9 leaflets. The yellow flowers usually have five petals, hence the name ‘cinquefoil’. This plant is regarded as one of the Burren specialities; its only other Irish station is on the shores of Lough Corrib, and it is rare in Britain.

Where to find in the park: This plant may be found at the winter high water mark around turloughs and lakes.

When to see: Flowers Late June to August.

Spring Gentian

Scientific Name : Gentiana verna

Irish Name: Ceadharlach Bealtaine

Description: One of the most famous plants of the Burren, the spring gentian is notable for its beautiful, trumpet-shaped, bright-blue flowers. Each flower has five petals and an inner fringe of fine lobes between the petals, surrounding a white centre. White or mauve-coloured varieties may sometimes be seen.

Where to find in the park: Found on limestone pavements and grasslands throughout the park.

When to see: The spring gentian, as its name suggests, begins to flower in late April and continues to flower until early June. Flowering may be earlier or later depending on the weather.

St. John’s-wort, perforate

Scientific Name : Hypericum androsaemum

Irish Name: Lus na Maighdine Muire

Description: This plant has clusters of very cheerful bright yellow flowers on upright stems. The leaves, as the name suggests, have translucent dots which look like little pin-pricks when held up to the light. Stems are round and hairless with two raised ridges.

Folklore / Traditional Uses: This plant has been used in herbal medicine for centuries. An oily extract from the plant was used to heal wounds. This use was justified, by way of the Doctrine of Signatures, an ancient herbal philosophy that herbs that resemble various parts of the body can be used to treat ailments of that part of the body. The herbalist William Coles wrote of the plant in the 17th century: "The little holes where of the leaves of Saint Johns wort are full, doe resemble all the pores of the skin and therefore it is profitable for all hurts and wounds that can happen thereunto." This explanation is obviously very spurious, but recent research has proven that H. perforatum is effective in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.

Where to find in the park: Common in meadows and on roadsides throughout the park.

When to see: Flowers from June to September.

Squinancywort

Scientific Name : Asperula cynanchica

Irish Name: Lus na Haincise

Description: A low-growing, mat-forming plant with clusters of small white or pinkish-coloured flowers. Flowers with four pointed petals which curl backwards, and leaves in whorls of four along the stem. Branched four-angled stems.

Folklore / Traditional Uses: According to folklore, this plant was used to cure quinsy, a complication of tonsillitis which is uncommon nowadays due to the availability of anitibiotics to treat tonsillitis.

Where to find in the park: Common on limestone and in grassy areas throughout the park.

When to see: Flowers from June to August.

Wild Thyme

Scientific Name : Thymus politrichus

Irish Name: Tím Chréige

Description: Similar to the garden variety which is used in cooking, this plant has erect stems with tiny pink/purple flowers. Leaves are evergreen, small, ovate, and are slightly aromatic when crushed, though not as strong-smelling as garden thyme. This species prefers free-draining soils, and is often associated with ant-hills of the yellow ant (Lasius flavus). Both thyme broomrape and Irish eyebright (link) parasitise this plant, but there are many parasite-free patches of this plant within the park.

Folklore / Traditional Uses: Like its close relative Thymus vulgaris, this species may be used in cooking. It has a strong scent and essential oils may be distilled from the leaves.

Where to find in the park: Frequent in meadows and on limestone pavement often found growing on ant-hills.

When to see: Flowers July to September.

Wood sorrel

Scientific Name : Oxalis acetosella

Irish Name: Seamsóg

Description: A very distinctive plant with trifoliate leaves which are sometimes mistaken for clover. The white flowers are solitary and quite delicate, with pink-lilac veins.

Folklore / Traditional Uses: The leaves of this plant are edible, with a sharp, bitter taste. An oxalate called "sal acetosella" was formerly extracted from the plant, through boiling.

Where to find in the park: Abundant in the ash/hazel woodlands.

When to see: Flowers April to May

Yellow rattle

Scientific Name : Rhinanthus minor

Irish Name: Gliorán

Description: This plant is abundant in the meadows of the park, and is very distinctive, with tough, erect stems and waxy, serrated leaves in opposite pairs along the stem. Flowers occur in clusters at the top of the stem and are bright yellow and irregular, with an upper and a lower lip. It is so-called because of its yellow flowers and its seed-pods, which turn quite dry and papery in the autumn, and when shaken the seeds inside produce a rattling sound.

This species is hemi-parasitic, i.e. it absorbs some water and nutrients from other plants, but produces its own chlorophyll. There is evidence to suggest that this species increases plant diversity in meadows, probably due to the fact that it keeps back tall, tussocky grasses by absorbing water and nutrients from their roots.

Where to find in the park: Yellow-rattle is abundant in the meadows throughout the Park.

When to see: Flowers from May to August.

Yellow-wort

Scientific Name : Blackstonia perfoliata

Irish Name: Dréimire Buí

Description: A very distinctive plant with erect, grey-green stems and branched clusters of bright yellow flowers.

Folklore and Traditional Uses: Its Irish name, Dréimire Buí (meaning ‘yellow ladder’) is inspired by its leaves, which occur in opposite pairs at regular intervals along the stem and are fused at the base, resembling the rungs of a ladder. The common name, Yellow-wort, indicates that the plant was once used medicinally (the suffix –wort in their names usually indicates that the plant had a medicinal use), but if the plant was once used to treat some ailment, this use is not now known.

Where to find in the park: This species occurs in shallow, dry, gravelly or stony calcareous ground, often in disturbed areas.

When to see: Yellow-wort blooms in late summer (July to September).