Spring is definitely sprung, these hazel catkins or “Lamb’s tails” were spotted this week on Slieve Gullion.
These, are the male flowers of the hazel, the female flowers are almost inconspicuous and could be easily mistaken for buds, but on closer examination you can see the crimson stigmas which protrude to receive the pollen from the male catkins as they are blown by the wind. The flowers when thus fertilised, develop into the familiar nuts you see in Autumn.
The hazel has its place in folklore, as it was believed that hazelnuts gave one wisdom and inspiration and one story relates to Fionn Mac Cumhail.
The story goes that nine hazel trees grew around a sacred pool and dropped nine nuts into the water. These were then eaten by a salmon, who it was believed absorbed the knowledge and wisdom. The poet Finn Eces spent seven years fishing for this particular salmon and when one day he finally caught it, he gave it to his servant, the young Fionn to cook, with strict instructions not to eat it. During the cooking process Fionn burnt his thumb, which he then put into his mouth to cool. Thus Fionn absorbed the wisdom and knowledge allowing him to become the leader of the Fianna and one of the most renowned heroes of Irish mythology!
This picture was taken last Sunday on our walk on Shean Mountain. It appears to be a Bracket Fungi which feed on wood, either living trees or dead logs, the brackets are the fruiting bodies. These form shelf-like structures singly or in groups and normally stick out from the trunk or branches though some can develop from infected roots and appear at ground level.
There are many different species of bracket fungi and they can vary in size from a few cms to a giant polypore (Meripilus giganteus) which can reach 1m across. Some species are specific to a particular host, ash and beech trees are both very susceptible to specific bracket fungi. Some of the other more interesting specimens include the gruesome “beefsteak” fungus that looks like raw meat and produces red juice when cut and the more attractive “chicken of the woods” which is bright yellow and a gourmet delicacy.
(But don’t take my word for it!!!)
Bracket fungus causes severe damage to trees. The first external symptom of infection, (often the appearance of the bracket fruiting bodies on the trunk or main branches), may be preceded by visible crown thinning and die back. By the time the bracket appears there will already be extensive internal heartwood decay. Decay usually leads to weakening and eventual breakage or wind fall of the tree.
Rowan sometimes called ‘mountain ash’ (because its leaves are similar to the compound leaves of the common ash), is a native deciduous tree commonly found in glens, by mountain streams, in woods and rocky places.Between May and June, it bears large flat heads of creamy white 5 petalled flowers which become the dense clusters of usually bright orange or red berries seen at this time of year. In some Asian varieties planted as ornamental specimens the berries can be pink, yellow or white.Rowan berries are packed with vitamin A and C and whilst very sour can be sweetened to make a good jelly to serve with roast lamb or venison. See the recipe below!!
Prep Time:15 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes
4lb/1.8 kg rowan berries, washed and stalks removed
3 lb/ 1.4 kg cooking apples, peeled, cored and quartered
1 lb/ 450g white sugar for each pint/ 600 ml juice
Put all the fruit in a large preserving pan and barely cover with water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 minutes or until the fruit is soft. Allow to drip through a jelly bag overnight.
Measure the juice and weigh out the correct amount of sugar. Add the juice and sugar to the cleaned preserving pan, and simmer over a low heat for 10 minutes until the sugar has dissolved.
Increase the heat and cook at a full rolling boil for 5 minutes, then test for a set. When the jelly has reached setting point, pot into hot, sterilized jars, seal and label.
Digitalis is a genus of about 20 species of herbaceousperennials, shrubs, and biennials commonly called foxgloves. This genus was traditionally placed in the figwort familyScrophulariaceae, but recent phylogenetic research has placed it in the much enlarged familyPlantaginaceae. This genus is native to western and southwestern Europe, western and central Asia, Australasia and northwestern Africa. The scientific name means “finger-like” and refers to the ease with which a flower of Digitalis purpurea can be fitted over a human fingertip. The flowers are produced on a tall spike, are tubular, and vary in colour with species, from purple to pink, white, and yellow. The best-known species is the common foxglove, Digitalis purpurea. This biennial plant is often grown as an ornamental plant due to its vivid flowers which range in colour from various purple tints through various shades of light gray, and to purely white. The flowers can also possess various marks and spottings.
The first year of growth of the common foxglove produces only the stem with its long, basal leaves. During the second year of the plant’s life, a long, leafy stem from 50 to 255 centimeters tall grows atop the roots of healthy plants.