SPRING SURPRISES – in plant and animal worlds


This is the time of the year when nature surprises.   But I hadn’t expected brother Kerry to become part of the picture.   Another curiosity?  

We were at the edge of the swamp woodland on the Library Point headland on Ross Island in Killarney National Park.

Is this a branch that has grown down and rejoined the trunk as a root?   Or is it a succor that has sprouted from the tree’s root and fused with the main trunk?

I have special memories of this sycamore tree.  As a young boy over 60 years ago I sheltered here with my father and he used his penknife to carve the letter F on the trunk.  Now  all that is to be seen is a blemish on the trunk.   In the back of my mind I have a vague thought that this might not be that tree of special memory.  Did that earlier sycamore fall?  Was this a descendant?

For months now the striking contrast between the washed-out wild grasses and the purpely-blue of Mangerton mountain.

Irish spurge on Governor’s Rock headland on Ross Island a week ago (March 15).   The common name of the spurge comes from the French ‘espurge’ meaning to purge, as the sap can have this effect if taken internally.   Spurge has been used by poachers to inflame the gills of salmon forcing them to the surface of the water where they are easily netted.   I would welcome an explanation of its Irish name ‘Bainne Caoin’.

While there were great carpets of the wood anemone and the occasional primrose, as well as an early green hue on willows in the swamp woodland, the huge, ancient beech showed no signs of spring.   The centre of the great beech is now hollow.   Every time I go to Ross Island, especially after a storm, I expect to find it has fallen.

In Muckross Gardens on Saturday (March 18) several cultivated rhododendron bushes were covered in huge blossoms.These are the reds and pinks and whites that are native of the Himalayas.  Although these don’t spread like the purple flowered rhododendron ponticum individual plants do expand hugely and need to be regularly cut back.

If you want to see Spring growing before your eyes bring along a flask of soup and a sandwich and a seat and sit down for a couple of hours by the grove of gunnera in Muckross Gardens.   In a matter of weeks it sprouts from the decayed remains of last year to have stalks and leaves of six feet or more.   If not carefully controlled gunnera spreads very actively.

The bright, light green of the heart-shaped leaves of the Katsura tree which can grow as high as 45meters/145 feet in the wild in its native Japan.   It is one of the largest hardwoods in Asia.

– Frank Lewis

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