Gorse; Ulex europaeus

Gorse, I have listed it under flowering in January and February but it is normally in flower all year round.





















The Song of The Gorse Fairies
“When gorse is out of blossom,”
(Its prickles bare of gold)
“Then kissing’s out of fashion,”
Said country-folk of old.
Now Gorse is in its glory
In May when skies are blue,
But when time is over,
Whatever shall we do?

O dreary would the world be, With everyone grown cold –
Forlorn as prickly bushes Without their fairy gold!
But this will never happen:
At every time of year  You’ll find one bit of blossom –
A kiss from someone dear!
By;   Cicely Mary Barker

Gorse also known as Furze, is in flower during most months of the year, the above photo was taken in February 2016. The peak of flowering is normally in May and by mid summer the bushes have predominantly lots of short seed pods.
Gorse is a member of the pea family or Leguminosae (also sometimes known as Fabaceae),  to use the scientific names. This family is huge and extends from the small plants like  vetches through to the familiar beans and peas and then into bushes like Gorse and Broom and even trees such as Laburnum and Locust tree. All of these plants have nodules on their roots which contain bacteria that can convert atmospheric nitrogen into nitrogenous fertiliser and this is of benefit not only to the bacteria ( they don’t do it out of the kindness of their heart) but also to the host plants. So the leguminosae can often survive in areas low in natural fertiliser, or out compete plants which do not have this advantage. Gorse will certainly colonise places like heathlands and moorlands which are low in nutrients.
In my bit of Ninewells wood there was no Gorse when I bought it, however there was some in other parts of Ninewells wood, particularly the more open areas. There is also plenty in the surrounding areas like Trellech beacon. Within a couple of months of felling the Corsican pines, gorse plants were popping up everywhere. There had obviously been a vast seed bank of them in the soil waiting for ‘good times’  to return again. They particularly sprung up on the edges of the bonfire sites where the brash had been burnt off. This is because gorse seeds have a particularly tough seed coat and they either have to wait many years for it to naturally decompose, or this can be circumvented by having the seed coat cracked by heat. Obviously the distance from the heat source is quite critical as too close and the seed inside would be cooked and to far away and the seat coat would not split. So you often see a narrow band of gorse plants growing up just around the edge of a bonfire site.

Surprisingly Gorse is quite a favoured food plant by rabbits, and the little plants now growing in my bit of woodland are regularly getting nibbled back. Eventually they will probably grow up above the level where a rabbit can reach and then they will be able to grow to full size which is about 2 to3 meters in height.

Of course this will depend on how many rabbits there are and how much alternative food there is. I recall an area in Norfolk called Syderstone common where I used to take students for ecology studies and there the rabbits had moulded the gorse bushes into peculiar low topiary shapes. None were  more than 50 cm high, no flowers and constantly being nibbled back.

It is sometimes the host to the parasitic plant Broomrape, this plant takes its food and water from  other species, there are several Broomrapes but the common one lives on Broom and Gorse. There is a species which sometimes occurs in woodlands called Ivy Broomrape because it parasitises Ivy, this is a fairly rare species.

Where it does get to flower and especially on a warm sunny day then the air has a strong smell of coconuts. It smells like a tropical beach with lots of sunbathers whacking on the coconut sun tan lotion. A few weeks later and the seed pods will have developed, these are typical pea/bean like pods but quite short, most will contain just 3 or 4 seeds. Many of these seeds will have a small grub living in them Exapion ulicis (formerly Apion ulicis) common name Gorse Seed Weevil. ( photo from Wikipedia, click for more info on this little chap) So only a small number of the seeds will be viable. The seeds are dispersed by the seed pod violently splitting in two, lengthways, and at the same time twisting up so the seeds are flung out. This process creates a little cracking noise and on hot days in July you can hear them going off if you stand near gorse bushes.



Another interesting insect associated with gorse is a beautiful little butterfly called a Green Hairstreak. The caterpillar of this butterfly will feed on Gorse among other food plants.



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9 thoughts on “Gorse; Ulex europaeus

  1. I always thought there was something missing in the saying that when gorse is in bloom, kissing is in season. There just wasn’t any rhyme or rhythm to it. This makes much more sense: “When gorse is out of blossom,” (Its prickles bare of gold) “Then kissing’s out of fashion,” Said country-folk of old. So I will add that to my list of facts about gorse. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the link through also I was interested to see that gorse when chopped up is/was used as fodder. Also the photo on the other blog of the mill at St Fagans which was used for the chopping process. I go to St Fagans every so often so I will photograph the building myself and add it into my blog.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Gorse was actually grown as a crop on some fields that were not easily ploughed – there is one not far from where I live that is still full of gorse, and has conifer plantations around it. And as south Pembrokeshire isn’t very Welsh, we have place names like Furzey Park that still show the gorse connection.
    I think there is an example of a smaller mill in the museum at Scolton in Pembrokeshire – someone who was at one of my talks said they had seen it demonstrated on ‘Countryfile’ a week earlier.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes it said that farmers used to have a couple of acres of furze in that other blog.


      1. Sorry, I had forgotten it was in there – I was thinking it was just in the Irish piece. And I’ve just been out for a walk that took me past a place called Furze Hill Farm

        Liked by 1 person

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