Wild Flowers of The Burren.

I am linking in a day late with Gail  at Clay and Limestone for Wild Flower Wednesday.

The one thing that could take me away from my garden in May is a long-held desire to see the unique flora of the Burren in May, when it is looking its best.
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If you don’t know where the Burren is,  here is a clue.
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This sign was spotted in Ballyvaughan in County Clare, Ireland. Balyvaughan is a great place to stay to explore the Burren. The name, Burren derives from the Irish word boireann which means rocky and this place certainly is rocky. It is a vast limestone pavement which at first glance looks quite arid. But everywhere there are cracks and fissures and small pastures with the most wonderful wild flowers.
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It is a unique habitat because there are Mediterranean, Arctic and Alpine plants all growing together. First of all, you have the effect of the Gulf Stream warming the air along the West coast here.  Secondly, the limestone itself acts like a vast storage heater retaining the heat of the summer sun into the winter. Then there is the quality of the light reflected from the limestone. This suits the Alpine plants.
I will start with the most showy of the alpines which grows in carpets in some areas. It is the irresitible Spring Gentian, Gentiana verna which is such an incredible shade of blue. The last time I saw gentians growing like this was in Switzerland.

Gentiana verna

Gentiana verna

Another Alpine is the Spring Sandwort, Minuartia verna which I believe is quite rare.

Minuartia verna

Minuartia verna

Mountain Avens, Dryas octopetala is another speciality of the Burren. It is a native of the Artic and here it mingles with Mediterranean plants.

Dryas octopetala

Dryas octopetala

There are plenty of Orchids on the Burren, when we were there Early Purples were everywhere. We have these in our woods in Suffolk, but not in the abundance you see here.


Here are some more beauties.


The lovely Common Milkwort has exquisite flowers in the same astonishing blue as the gentians. The little pink Lousewort is an acid soil-loving plant but survives in pockets of peat on the limestone. For foliage I love the little Rusty-back Fern or the Silver Weed. The Thrift and Sea Campion are a lovely feature of the coast, but so were the winds that took your breath away. Some days you had to be a real enthusiast to go looking for flowers, specially on the coast.

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This is a very ancient land and although it looks as if it must have been erosion which made such a bare landscape, it was once heavily populated and the trees were removed by people living here about 5,000 years ago.There are about 500 ancient hill forts in the Burren. There is a wonderful neolithic portal tomb at Poulnabrone which contained human remains and artefacts which have been analysed to give a fascinating insight to the lives of these people.
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In the nineteenth century this area became depopulated by the potato famine which hit this part of Ireland badly. About 1 million people died in Ireland when the potato blight struck in successive years. What we didn’t learn at school was that the English Prime Minister, Lord John Russell had a deliberate policy of laissez-faire to protect free trade. People were allowed to starve whilst grain and meat were exported to England. It was even suggested that it was Divine Providence that people should starve. It amounted to genocide. It was out of the question to give people food for nothing, so pointless projects were devised like building unwanted walls up steep hills. Starving men were paid a pittance for this work; many died whilst they were doing it. These walls are a  grim reminder of man’s inhumanity to man. In the next picture you can see the wall on the left, running up the hill.
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An interest in flowers was obviously shared by stone masons in the twelfth century here. The Abbey at Corcomroe has carvings of flowers on the corbels which are some of the earliest depictions of flowers in a church. They are thought to be harebells which grow in the surrounding countryside.IMG_1244
The legend says that the stone mason had to be put to death when he had finished so that he would never be able to carve anything so beautiful anywhere else.

Thank you for hosting this lovely meme Gail. Why don’ t you join in on the last Wednesday of the month and share the wildflowers you are enjoying in your part of the world?

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45 Responses to Wild Flowers of The Burren.

  1. What an amazing group of plants, thanks for sharing. The Burrens sounds like a place a bad alien would hang out in a Star Trek movie.

    • Chloris says:

      It does look barren from a distance but it is full of flowers. I can’ t imagine aliens would be out there looking for flowers. I didn’ t see any anyway. Probably too cold and windy for them.

  2. pbmgarden says:

    Amazing to see those orchids. The landscape is fascinating in its ruggedness.

  3. Thanks for the background story and the history. It’s always sad to learn about how humans in the past (and present) hurt each other. But it’s good to be informed. Your wildflowers are lovely. Many of them are familiar, but actually most are new to me, or the particular species is new to me. Flowering plants that grow among rocks are to be appreciated and commended. 🙂

  4. Cathy says:

    Beautiful flowers Chloris, especially those lovely gentians, and an interesting post too. It looks quite chilly in that picture of the coastline!

  5. mattb325 says:

    Such a wonderful post – I went to Ireland a number of times when I lived in the UK, but never got to this part of co. clare. The plants are amazing in this part of the world, where so much can be grown…while I know it was poor practices that led to potato blight (they didn’t know any better) it always seems incongruous that such a fertile patch can produce such hardship.
    The gentian and orchids are just spectacular!

    • Chloris says:

      It is wonderful country for cattle, they can feed on plants on the limestone in winter and the plants are full of minerals. Of course during the famine the beef was all exported to England. The poor people had nothing else to eat but rotten potatoes.
      The flowers are amazing.

  6. gardenfancyblog says:

    Those gentians are indeed an incredible blue. And that ancient coast is fascinating. However, the real crime against the Irish was that they were prevented by law from owning land (and from doing many other things that would have improved their lot too). (http://fee.org/freeman/detail/lessons-of-history-the-great-irish-famine) It’s just as well that my Irish ancestors were pushed to leave the tyranny and abuse of their English overlords and seek freedom in the New World — it’s worked out pretty well for most of us over here… 🙂 Thanks for the beautiful photos, and enjoy the rest of your holiday! -Beth

    • Chloris says:

      It is a hauntingly beautiful part of the world. That is an interesting link, thank you.
      Emigration worked out well for people’ s descendants but just as many died on the ‘ coffin boats’ trying to get there, as died in the famine. And how heart – breaking for generations of Irish mothers having to see their children leaving forever.

  7. Tina says:

    This was so interesting, Chloris. A fascinating area that can host such a diversity of plants. When I looked at the first photo, I thought it looked very similar to the highest points of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, US. That is an alpine area, but in the summer, full of wildflowers.

    I’ve never heard of the The Burrens. Thank you for the history lessen and the look at it’s natural habitat.

    • Chloris says:

      I have never been to the Rocky Mountains, are they limestone too? So many interesting places to visit. I have a book called: ‘Wildflower Wonders: the 50 Best Wildflower Sites in the World’ and I have thought it would be wonderful to visit them all. I don’ t suppose I will though. I haven’ t got enough years left.

  8. Julie says:

    What a lovely post, I had not heard of the Burren, incredible that an Arctic native made its way to Ireland, I guess bird or wind. Your report on Lord John Russell makes more sense than what we were taught. I wonder if a truer reflection on that time is taught in schools now.

    • Chloris says:

      No they weren’t blown there, they were left there after the last Ice Age. I hope history lessons are more objective than they used to be. It is interesting comparing history books in different European countries. The same events are quite unrecognisable.

  9. Several years ago we visited the Burren, a very special place, the atmosphere is incredible. Quite beautiful.

  10. croftgarden says:

    Lovely to see the limestone flora, something we don’t have here, but we share the lovely oceanic climate! Although not widely appreciated the outbreak of potato blight in the 19th century also affected communities in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

    • Chloris says:

      I didn’ realise that it reached Scotland. Did it result in widespread famine there too?

      • croftgarden says:

        Certainly serious hunger if not quite the famine experienced in Ireland. Similarly crofters had not land tenure until the Crofting Act of 1886. So if they were evicted during the clearances or for any other reason there was no alternative either stay and starve or emigrate.

  11. Flighty says:

    A most enjoyable, and interesting, post and wonderful pictures. xx

  12. What a place of contrasts. Limestone makes for some incredible landscapes. Lovely photos again!

  13. Christina says:

    Liz, this most is fascinating. I have visited the Burren bug only fleetingly while on the way somewhere else. It is incredible that so many plants from such diverse habitats all live together. Last year I saw Gentians growing like these up in the mountains. I think that that was also limestone and was soooooo beautiful. Our history puts us to shame, not just this but countless other episodes where man’s inhumanity to man leaves me speechless. I’m glad you had a wonderful holiday and I imagine that the Pianist was happy with long walks in beautiful surroundings. Thank you.

    • Chloris says:

      It is beautiful but I think the Pianist would enjoy the walks better if I didn’ t stop every few minutes to drool over flowers. It drives him mad.

  14. Cathy says:

    A lovely meme, as you say, and a lovely contribution to it. I went to the Burren years ago and only remember the landscape, not the plants. So nice to see them finally … what wonderful corbels on the abbey. Thanks for sharing.

    • Chloris says:

      Perhaps you weren’ t there at the right time of year for the flowers. They are at their best in May. I would like to see some of the orchids that bloom later though.

      • Cathy says:

        We were there in May. I’m ashamed to say it was a ‘class trip’ when I was a hort student, so no excuses for me. I think my mind must have been on other things.

  15. I wonder if “burren” and “barren” are derived from the same linguistic root. Everything we now know about what happened to the Irish during the potato blight is as appalling as can possibly be imagined. To think of some poor starving soul working construction on a hill like you’ve shown while weak with hunger is just too much. Yes, what a marvelous blue on the gentian which doesn’t appreciate Virginia heat and humidity. Nor do I, come to think of it.

    • Chloris says:

      I never thought of that, it sounds quite likely doesn’ t it? I believe barren comes from the Old French ‘ baraigne’ but it could have a Celtic origin and come from the same word. How interesting.
      I could do with a bit of your Virginian heat right now. I’ m sitting inside with the heating on.

  16. Alain says:

    A most interesting post for me as our garden is also on a limestone pavement (even if it has more soil than the pavement in your pictures). Flowers on the pavement here are also at their best. The most spectacular plants being the yellow cypripediums which started opening a few days ago.
    I will try growing some of the plants you mention.

  17. I love this post, and what a fascinating and beautiful region. The wildflowers are wonderful, especially the Gentian! I was also interested in the history you described, including the Potato Famine – there are episodes in American history which are equally dismaying. Thank you for introducing us to this part of the world and its wildflowers.

  18. snowbird says:

    How captivating! I love wildflowers and these are beauts, especially Gentinia verna, how beautiful….I totally get what you mean about the winds though, they can put a girl off!
    The Burren is incredible, I did enjoy learning a little about those rocks, when you first see them it’s astonishing to think anything grows there, but then Nature sure does fins a way!
    How heartbreaking about the famine, I can’t imagine men dying of starvation while building walls, what an abject lack of compassion. I hope the stone mason survived his carving! I loved this!xxx

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Dina, I’ m glad you enjoyed it. It is beautiful there but there were days when the weather was dismal. Talking of which, are you having an awful day there too? Or is it just in Suffolk?

  19. Kris P says:

    Such a sad history for a stark but beautiful place. Those Gentiana are the stuff of dreams.

  20. bittster says:

    Great post about a hard landscape. People can do such good and become stewards of the land and their brothers but it’s not an easy path. We see that every day.
    Fascinating place to explore!

  21. jenhumm116 says:

    Thank you so much for this post.
    I visited the Burren over 20 years ago, way before I became so plant obsessed, so it’s been lovely to have a second visit when I can appreciate it better!

  22. Anna says:

    Oh a fascinating post Chloris. I’ve heard of the Burren but did not realise that it was such a haven for wild flowers. I can understand why you were tempted to leave your beloved garden in the month of May 🙂

  23. This is one of the most fascinating wildflower post….I will have to note this area for when I return to visit Ireland again…so desolate and so beautiful….I especially love the orchids.

  24. Debra says:

    What a wild place. A person can find beauty anywhere. Beautiful flowers. Tragic past.

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