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07 Dec 2021

Kildare Wildlife Watch: I can’t believe it’s not a dandelion!

Wildlife Watch with the Bog of Allen Nature Centre

Kildare Wildlife Watch: I can’t believe it’s not a dandelion!

Colt's Foot. Picture: Nuala Madigan

Last week I wrote about groundsel and this week, by chance, I have actually found a relative of this plant called colt’s-foot (sponc as Gaeilge).

I found this wildflower during the week growing on waste ground adjacent to a parking space I had pulled into. The reason this wildflower caught my attention was I could not see any of its leaves.

The flowers, once fully in bloom, resemble that of a dandelion, so I am presuming this is why I have never noticed it before, as I simply always thought it was a dandelion!

This wildflower is one of the first to emerge and can be seen in flower between February and April each year.

The bright yellow flowers contain many narrow petals that are held on upright stems that are covered in leafy-looking scales. I now know the reason I could not see any leaves is the fact that colt’s-foot always flowers before it produces its large dark green heart-shaped leaves. These leaves are said to be the origin of the name of this wildflower, as once visible they are said to look like a hoof.

There are other common names for colt’s-foot. You may know it as coughwort, as in traditional medicine it was used to treat lung complaints. However, today we also know it can be highly toxic for human consumption.

Blackthorn is a hedgerow plant that also that produces its white flower before the leaf. Some plants do this as leaves can block sunlight and limited growth of the flowers. For flowering plants flowers are an essential part of their lifecycle as this is the part of the plant that produces the seeds for reproduction.

When you consider the fact the leaves of colt’s-foot are large this theory holds true, as these leaves could definitely block sunlight from the flower.

This week, when you take your daily walk, see can you find colt’s-foot in your local area and don’t forget to watch for the flowers of blackthorn too.

If you would like help identifying or to learn more about a wildlife species contact me at the Bog of Allen Nature Centre on 045 860133 or bogs@ipcc.ie.

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