Native Trees of Ireland - Preamble to 'Thursday Trees' Series

Native Trees of Ireland – Preamble to ‘Thursday Trees’ Series

Native Trees of Ireland

Trees are considered to be large, perennial, woody plants, with secondary branches supported by a primary trunk. Many experts consider a tree species as being one which regularly reaches 6 m (20 ft) tall. Smaller woody plants tend to be referred to as bushes, though this is by no means universally agreed.

Native trees of Ireland are those present on our island today and have been continuously since a certain time, without the intervention of man to introduce them. In Ireland, this is understood to be a species that colonised the island during or soon after the retreat of ice at the end of the last ice age (ca. 10,000 to 12,000 years ago). While this is all very well and good, it means that several of our more loved and common trees, like Sycamore and Beech, are not considered ‘native’.

Native trees of Ireland, Scots Pine

Scots Pines at sunset, Co. Sligo

Most experts agree that there are 25 native trees of Ireland, as follows :

Alder, Crab Apple, Ash, Birch (Silver and Downy), Blackthorn, Cherry (Common and Bird), Elm (Wych), Hawthorn, Hazel, Holly, Juniper, Oak (Sessile and Pedunculate), Poplar (Aspen), Rowan (Mountain Ash), Scots Pine, Strawberry Tree, Whitebeam, Willow (Bay, Eared, Goat and Grey) and Yew. Mayo, as you may know, gets its county name from the Irish ‘Maigh Eo’ – the ‘Plain of the Yew’. Nowadays, sadly, you’d be lucky to find a Yew tree outside of a cemetery in Mayo. There are some, but not many.

The Sessile Oak, meanwhile, is the National Tree of Ireland.

Well established and well known non-native species, like the Horse Chestnut, Beech and Sycamore, are considered by many to be as good as native also.

Ireland was once a country where trees were held as sacred. Druids revered trees and, well into the Christian era, there were harsh punishments for abuse of trees. In written records from the 8th Century, four classes of trees of Ireland were defined – the so-called nobles, commoners, lower divisions of the wood and bushes. Each class had a relative value, based on its quality, quantity or other attribute, such as its food or resin yield. The fine imposed on those who destroyed a noble tree without good reason was the value of 2.5 milch cows, which at that time, one can imagine, was a considerable sum of money.

Native trees of Ireland - Hawthorn

‘Fairy’ Hawthorn above Killary Harbour

On Thursdays, I will endeavour to introduce one of these trees, with photos where possible. I hope you’ll come back and visit ‘Thursday Trees’.

The Woodland League has a lot to say about Ireland’s relationship with its native trees. Learn more about Ireland’s native trees. Some of the finest places in Mayo to see beautiful trees include the woods at Cong, Belleek (Ballina), Old Head (Louisburgh) and Brackloon (Westport), as well as the countless bogs of East Mayo.

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Scots Pine



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