One of the distinctive features of our Irish countryside are our hedgerows. These field boundaries are part of our cultural and agricultural heritage, often forming townland as well as farm demarcations.
In many counties, including Mayo, hawthorn makes up a large proportion of these native hedgerows (hawthorn is estimated to occur in about 90% of hedgerows in the county).
Hawthorns flower in May, so it is sometimes called the May tree, or whitethorn. This year there is an abundance of hawthorn blossom, much like last year. Some of the hedgerows look almost white (perhaps an indication of why it is also called whitethorn). Anytime there is a strong wind, the little roads around us are covered in fallen blossom. So it almost looks like it has been snowing!
In Ireland, the hawthorn is often associated with fairies and the underworld. Lone hawthorns in the middle of fields will not be touched for fear of upsetting the fairy folk. Hawthorns can live up to 400 years old, and while they never get tall, they can become quite gnarled, so you can see where it may get this reputation.
I concentrated on wild flowers, trees, butterflies, bees, birds and mammals. In total I had 64 species, though I know that there are more as some birds and butterflies that occur in the garden were not recorded over the weekend. I also didn’t see any frogs or newts which I also know are here. A couple of bees were missing too and I wasn’t able to identify all the hoverflies seen – some are quite tricky unless you have a microscope.
There were forty one wildflowers and trees, and thirteen different bird species, though admittedly I only heard the cuckoo! The hoverfly Leucozona lucorum was a new one for me, though I have since seen about five more. Another lovely find was a small copper butterfly. The peacock butterfly was quite worn but still beautiful.
Green veined white
Buff tailed bumblebee
Hoverfly – Leucozona lucorum
Longhorn bettle – Rhagium bifasciatum
Nationally on Friday 22nd May – 1,756 records were submitted to the Date Centre, on Saturday 23rd May – 1,894 and on Sunday 24th May – 1,658 records. A total of 890 different species were recorded which is pretty impressive. More information can be seen on http://www.biodiversityireland.ie/
These beautiful haws are not the native Irish hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna but an American form Crataegus ellwangeriana. This species originated in Eastern USA, and is thought to be a hybrid. The haws are about the size of a marble and taste somewhat of apples. It is one of three Crataegus species we have planted as part of our forest garden and the only one yet to produce haws. Compared to our native hawthorn, Crataegus ellwangeriana has a more pleasant flavour.
Our native hawthorns usually crop well, which is one of the reason we thought to try some of the cultivated varieties. They are one of the most common trees in our native hedgerows. At this time of year, the haws are an important food source for many birds, especially blackbirds and thrushes.
Native hawthorn – in a good year
This year, the haw crop seems very poor and I wonder how that will impact on the thrush and blackbird populations as winter progresses. We had lots of rowan berries in the young mixed wood that is planted close-by but the berries are already nearly all gone – I can only assume they have been eaten already.
Rowan berries, Sorbus aucuparia
Elderberries too and nearly all eaten. So what will be left?