In Praise of Bog Plants

Above all they are a source of peace. My relations with plants are made simple and calm by my feelings of shedding a universal sadness. Their simple presence is profoundly comforting and calming. To observe plants is to allow them to spread their beauty over me, of forms, colours, scents. This is an unfailing means for forgetting, removing my cares and feelings of depression. To become interested in plants is also to join a tradition. We are spontaneously attracted by animals, but we learn to love plants”

Yildiz Aumeerruddy, Ethnobotanist in ‘In Praise of Plants‘ by Francis Hallé

These are beautiful words about the character of plants, and how their restful, calming presence affects us. We learn to love plants, as with most things, through interaction, familiarity, and tending. I learned to love plants in my back garden as a child, when I was given a patch of my father’s vegetable garden to grow my own herbs and flowers (see below!). I still tend that patch, even more so recently as I have rediscovered the reassurance of gardening in these sombre and slower times.

An early attempt at wildlife-friendly garden design circa 1989

I worked at the National Botanic Gardens for three years, and after I left, I missed my walks through these splendid gardens, mingling with people and plants from Ireland and all over the world. I met with some remarkable trees (and people), a few favourites being the Handkerchief Tree (Davidia involucrata), with its delicate white, wavering blooms; the Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo), with its crimson fruits appearing miraculously while it flowered; and the Giant Sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum), these monumental gentle giants. I was surrounded by an abundance of plants from orchids, roses, and Irish flora, to alpines, ferns, and palms, each with its own beauty, and a fascinating story of evolution, adaptation, and survival.

I was fortunate to find a microcosm of this world of plants, and equally enchanting stories of adaptation and survival during my visits to Girley Bog. Undoubtedly, it was the unusual ecology of bog plants that sparked my appreciation and love of bogs. The more I learned about the adaptations of these diminutive plants that enable them to survive the harsh conditions of life on the bog, the more I admired them as botanical wonders. The miniature flora of the bog deserves huge respect, for its beauty, tenacity and, hopefully, its continuing resilience in a warming world. However, it is not only for their adaptive and scientific properties that we learn to love plants. As Francis Hallé notes: “It is the entire plant, from its roots to its flowers, in its soil, with its uses throughout the ages, that is important, because we need to perceive it with our senses, not only in an intellectual, devitalised way”.

Clockwise from top left: Bog Asphodel; Bog Cranberry on Sphagnum; Bog Rosemary; Sundew

This holistic way of perceiving plants is echoed in artist and friend Cathy Fitzgerald’s blog about her Hollywood forest, which she is transforming from a monoculture to continuous cover forestry. She describes blogging as a ‘creative ecology of practices’, whose ‘hyperlinked form mirrors the interconnected, interwovenness of life’. Never before has the interdependence of our ‘community of life’ (as described in the Earth Charter), been more evident than in these uncertain times. The symbiotic nature of many bog plants, woven together with mycorhizza and each other to support and engineer the bog environment, demonstrates in microcosmic form our own connectivity and dependence on each other.

During this current time of retreat and solitude, I hope to write some more blog posts about the plants of Girley Bog, to share their extraordinary attributes, irrepressible characters, and dramatic stories. I’ve written previously about Bog Cotton and Sphagnum moss and share below a chart outlining some of the unique adaptations of bog plants that make them so interesting. Also below are some resources I drew on to make it. Any errors are mine so I encourage readers to leave a comment below if new research has changed what we know about these plants’ survival mechanisms. Please also leave a comment if you would like to share your thoughts and experiences of the wonderful world of bog plants! If you wish to be notified of new posts Follow the blog below.

Bog Plant Adaptations

Some links to resources about bog plants in Ireland:

Irish Peatland Conservation Council Bog Plant Book

Irish Wetland Types: An Identification Guide and Field Survey Manual

Irish Wildflowers on Bogs, Fens and Acidic Heathland

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