Gorse, Furze or Whin
'When gorse is in flower, kissing is in fashion' - so goes the old expression. The two species of gorse in Ireland flower at different times, one in spring, U. europaeus, and the other, U. gallii, in autumn, so there is rarely a week of the year when some flowers cannot be found.
U. europaeus is a very spiny and bushy shrub with blue-green branchlets and leaves reduced to small scales or thorns. It can grow to more than two metres tall. It is found throughout Ireland, especially in the east on lime-free soils in rough pastures, heaths and rocky places, but not in woodlands. In the west and on higher mountain slopes it is replaced by the next species. In some areas it was planted to form hedges.
Gorse was formerly used for fuel and was a good fodder source for stock once its spines had been crushed, usually with large stone rollers or wooden mallets. Gorse flower wine is, I am told, worth trying. Its flowers are golden yellow, sweetly scented and from 15 to 20 millimetres long, surrounded by a short hairy brown calyx. The seeds develop in a small pea-pod like black capsule that when mature is similar in length to the flowers. During dry summer days one can often hear the cracking open of pods as they explode to disperse the seeds. It is widespread throughout western Europe and North Africa and introduced to many other parts of the world.
Ulex europaeus "strictus", a variety with erect branches and soft, flexible spines, was first discovered as a once-off chance freak plant in Northern Ireland last century. It is now a frequently grown garden plant.
Mountain gorse (Ulex gallii Aiteann gaelach) is also a bushy shrub but is a smaller, darker green species than the previous one, less hairy and with smaller deeper yellow flowers. It can also be distinguished by having only faintly furrowed spines whereas those of U. europaeus are deeply furrowed. Its seed pods are burst open in spring. It occurs distributed along the Atlantic coastal fringes of Europe, from Spain to Scotland.
Detail taken from Trees and Shrubs - Ireland's Flora and Fauna (an Appletree Deluxe Edition) written by Peter Wyse-Jackson. Also available as part of the