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Ulex europeaus – Common Gorse is to be found in flower most months and even in January it makes a good show on some bushes.Gorse

Others however are for some reason  completely devoid of flowers.

During subsequent months when there may be more flowers in bloom and the air temperature is higher the flowers produce a distinctive smell of coconut. Were you to walk along a path lined with gorse bushes with your eyes closed you could be forgiven for thinking you were on a tropical beach with many scantily clad people all dripping with sun tan lotion, so stong is the smell of coconut. I am perhaps fantasising about tropical beaches because it is January and cold and grey. Furthermore due to the very thorny nature of gorse bushes it is probably better to keep your eyes open when in their proximity.

Only a few flowers in bloom but plenty to come.

Only a few flowers in bloom but plenty to come.

Gorse is a member of the pea family and as with all members of this family they have root nodules. These are little lumps on their roots which contain bacteria which have the ability to use nitrogen from the air to make nitrogenous fertilisers which all plants need. Plants which can do this can live and flourish on soils which are low in natural nitrogenous fertiliser which is perhaps one reason why Gorse is often found on rather poor sandy habitats where other plants might struggle to do so well so look out for Gorse where the soil is light, sandy and often acidic in nature. Such soil does not occur in all parts of Poitou-Charentes as many areas in the Departemnt are the opposite – chalky and alkaline.

Gorse is very flammable and is often burnt, sometimes accidentally and sometimes by landowners and conservationists trying to increase habitat diversity by having a range of different ages of gorse bushes. Once it has been burnt it will recolonise very quickly. In fact the seeds are actually more likely to germinate if they have been subjected to the right amount of heat. The right amount is enough to crack the thick, hard outer seed coat open but not so strong  as to burn the inside of the seed.  I used to spend a lot of time in my professional life at a place called Foulden Common in Norfolk and during this time conservation work was underway. It largely involved selective clearance of trees and bushes  often followed by huge bonfires to get rid of the cleared material. Some months after the bonfire went out a ring of little Gorse plants would germinate around the bonfire site in the position where the heat was just right to crack the seed coat of gorse seeds which were lying semi dormant on the woodland floor.

A similar plant to Gorse is Broom and that is found on more alkaline soils. It’s scientific name is Genista and it gave its name to the Plantagenets.                                     See my post of 26th April https://poitoucharentesinphotos.wordpress.com/2012/04/26/the-plantagenets/

Last year the January flower of the month was Hazel. (click hazel to see this post)