Cross-leaved heath. Picture: Nuala Madigan
Bogs can be described as wet, wild open landscapes in our local areas. They are exposed to the extremes of the Irish weather, so on days where it might seem calm, a walk on a bog can seem like a completely different climatic experience. For example, with no resistance the wind can seem twice as strong as elsewhere.
All plants and animals that live on Irish bogs must adapt to survive these extreme conditions. One adaption that many peatland plants have is the ability to hibernate in winter to protect from the freezing temperatures of that season.
This week’s species, crossed-leaved heath (Fraoch naoscaí as Gaeilge) is now in flower, bringing a pretty pink colour to our local bogs.
Cross-leaved heath is a type of heather plant. It is distinguished from ling heather by its flower shape and its arrangement of leaves along the plant’s stem. As its name suggests, the small narrow green leaves are arranged opposite one another in a whorl around the stem, forming a cross.
The pink flowers are bell shaped, and clustered at the top of the stem.
Cross-leaved heath is one of the few plants that does not hibernate, it is an evergreen shrub.
Similar to other heathers, it protects itself from the freezing winter conditions by holding very little water in the body of the plant.
It makes its own food through photosynthesis in order to grow on the bog.
The adaption not to hibernate means heather plants are one of the tallest on the bog, as they do not have to begin their growth each year from a bud. Yet as they live in nutrient-poor acidic boglands, their growth is still limited and this plant can reach a maximum height of 30-50cm.
Crossed-leaved heath is an important source of nectar for pollinators, and in particular for one butterfly species — the large heath butterfly.
The large heath butterfly is considered a raised bog specialist, feeding on the nectar of both cotton grass and crossed-leaved heath, but is sadly under recorded in Ireland.
If you would like help identifying or to learn more about a wildlife species contact me via email email@example.com.