The Flora of Fox Covert

Caheroyan Farm, Athenry, Co. Galway
August 1996

Fox Covert is a small, roughly hexagonal, area of ancient peat bog over carboniferous limestone strata. It survives as an island amidst drained pasture from which most of the peat has been stripped. To the south the land rises through a boggy field to a lightly wooded area which appears to have sprung from neglected hedges. To the north it is bounded by a deep (about 2 metres) ditch which flows westwards into the River Clarin. In a past attempt to drain the land, about 30 ditches have been cut from south to north, feeding the boundary ditch. Two of these are about 1.3 metres deep, the majority are about 0.8 to 1 metre deep. There is a connecting ditch running east-west through the centre of the area.The NW corner is densely planted with Betula pendula around 7 metres high, and much of the remainder is sparsely planted with Picea abies saplings.

The plot has a very rich flora with 109 species recorded in August 1996. The diversity is due mainly to the presence of base-rich soils in the SW corner, in which calcicoles such as, Parnassia palustris, Blackstonia perfoliata and Carlina vulgaris thrive alongside Mentha aquatica, Schoenus nigricans, and Cirsium palustre. This contrasts strongly with the typical bog flora of the eastern end. Linum catharticum extends over much of the plot, apparently as happy in acidic as in basic soil. An interesting component of the flora of the SW corner, and a great surprise to an English botanist. i s Plantago maritima: This is an essentially coastal plant, but it is stated in [1] that it occurs also “inland on limestone in W. Ireland “. This is consistent with the distribution map shown in [2]. The plant community of this SW section of Fox Covert is more typical of established coastal duneland than of an inland peat bog.

Wide are-as of the plot are extremely colourful, with abundant Lythrum salicaria, Leucanthemun vulgare, Ulex Gallii, Mentha aquatica, Succisa pratensis, Galium verum, and Filipendula vulgare. Pedicularis palustris is particularly fine in some central areas.

The eastern end is dominated by Myrica gale, and there are small patches of Narthecium ossifragum, and Eriophorum angustifolium. Most of the larger Myrica gale specimins are dying, probably due to drainage, but smaller plants are regenerating in other areas. Close to the NE ed g e was a small patch of Stachys palustris, but the plants were not thriving, and only one plant had flower buds about to open on 16th August; at least six weeks after its usual flowering time.

The insectiverous Drosera rotundi, folia, and a small-leaved Potomogeton are restricted to constantly damp ditch bottoms. Triglochin palustris is further restricted to the wetter northern ends of the two deep south/north ditches. It is reasonable to suppose that these typical marsh and bog plants were more plentiful before drainage.

Three orchids were found in flower. Gymnadenia conopsea is abundant at the western end, and around the periphery. Dactylorhiza maculata occurs less frequently over most of the plot. A single plant of Dactylorhiza purpurella was found on the northern periphery. This is very clearly of the form shown by “many Scottish and W Irish populations” as described in the footnote on page 1 047 of [I], with a broad, rounded, and distinctly three-lobed labellum. This last species can probably be grouped with those of the previous paragraph, and similar comments apply.

The boundary ditches with free standing water have a good stream flora with M enyanthes trifoliata, Sparganium erectum, Alisma plantago-aquatica, and Iris Pseudacorus.

In conclusion, this small area holds much interest for the botanist, and much of beauty for the casual observer. Doubtless many more species will be added as surveys are made at other times of the year. Grasses in particular are under-recorded, due to the limited time available in this initial survey, and the desiccated state of most species in August. Fox Covert could serve as a valuable and easily accessible resource for ecological and botanical education at all levels from local schools to universities. It is to be hoped that it can be preserved and managed to maintain the diversity of the flora. To this end further drainage of the land should be avoided, or preferably reversed.


References

1) “Flora of the British Isles ” Clapham AR, Tutin TG, and Warburg EF. Second edition, Cambridge University Press, 1962.
2) “An Atlas of the Wild flowers of Britain and Northern Europe “. Fitter A. Collins, 1978.

Colin Sillence
BSc, MSc Bristol
UK ,
August 31st 1996

 

Species List
Fox Covert, Caheroyan Farm, Athenry
August 1996

Botanical Name Common Name
Achillea millefolium Yarrow
Alisma plantago-aquatica Common Water Plantain
Anagallis tenella Bog pimpernell
Angelica sylvestris Angelica
Apium graveolens Wild Celery
Bellis perennis Daisy
Blackstonia perfoliata Yellow-wort
Briza media Quaking Grass
Calamintha sylvatica Common calamint
Calluna vulgaris Heather
Carex flacca Glaucous Sedge
Carex lepidocarpa Long-stemmed Sedge
Carlina vulgaris Carline Thistle
Centuary Centaurea nigra
Hardheads Centaurium erythraea
Cerastium fontanum Common Mouse-ear
Crataegus monogyna Hawthorn
Chenopodiurn rubrum Red Goosefoot
Cirsium arvense Creeping Thistle
Cirsium palustre Marsh Thistle
Cirsium vulgare Spear Thistle
Clinopodium vuIgare Wild Basil
Crepis capillaris Crested Dogstail
Cynosurus cristatus Smooth Hawksbeard
Dactylorhiza maculata Heath Spotted Orchid
Dactylorhiza purpurella Northern Marsh Orchid
Drosera rotundifolia Round-leaved Sundew
Epilobium montanum Broad-leaved Willowherb
Epilobium palustre Marsh Willowherb
Equisetum aquaticum Water horsetail
Equisetum arvense Common Horsetail
Eriophorum angustifolium Cottongrass
Erica tetralix Cross-leaved Heath
Euphrasia officinalis Eyebright
Filipendula ulmaria Meadowsweet
Galium aparine Goosegrass
Galium palustre Marsh Bedstraw
Galium verum Lady’s Bedstraw
Gymnadenia conopsea Fragrant Orchid
Holcus lanatus Yorkshire Fog
Hydrocotyle vulgaris Marsh Pennywort
Hypericum pulchrum Slender St. John’s Wort
Hypericum tetrapterum Square-stemmed St. John’s Wort
Hypochaeris radicata Common Cat’s-ear
Iris pseudacorus Yellow Flag
Juncus acutiflorus Sharp-flowered Rush
Juncus conglomeratus Compact Rush
Juncus effusus Soft Rush
Leucanthemum vulgare Ox-eye Daisy
Lotus corniculatus Birdsfoot Trefoil
Linum catharticum Purging Flax
Lythrum salicaria Purple Loosestrife
Mentha aquatica Water mint
Menyanthes trifoliatum Bogbean
Molinea caerulea Purple Moor-grass
Myosotis arvensis Forgetmenot
Myosotis scorpoides Water Forgetmenot
Myrica gale Bog Myrtle
Narthecium ossifragum Bog asphodel
Odontites verna Red Bartsia
Parnassia paIustris Grass of Parnassus
Pedicularis syivatica Marsh Lousewort
Phragmites communis Common Reed
Plantago Ianceolata Ribwort Plantain
Plantago major Greater Plantain
Plantago maritima Sea Plantain
Poiygala vulgaris Milkwort
Polygonum persicaria Redshank
Potentilla anserina Silverweed
Potentilla erecta Tormentil
Potomogeton ? Pondweed
Prunella vulgaris Self-heal
Pteridium aquilinum Bracken
Ranunculus flammula Lesser Spearwort
Ranunculus repens Creeping Buttercup
Rhinanthus minor Hay Rattle
Rumex acetosa Sorrel
Rumex acetosella Sheep’s Sorrel
Rumex crispus Curled-leaved Dock
Rumex obtusifolius Broad-leaved Dock
Rubus fruticosus Blackberry
Rubus ideaus Raspberry
Sagina nodosa Knotted Pearlwort
Salix purpurea Purple Willow
Samolus valerandi Brooklime
Schoenus nigricans Black Bog-rush
Scrophularia nodosa Figwort
Senecio aquaticus Marsh Ragwort
Senecio vulgaris Groundsel
Solanum nigrum Black Nightshade
Sonchus arvensis Corn Sow-thistle
Sonchus oleraceus Smooth Sow-thistle
Sorbus acuparia Rowan
Sparganium erectum Branched Bur-reed
Stachys palustris Marsh Woundwort
Stellaria media Chickweed
Succisa pratensis Devilsbit Scabious
Taraxacum vulgaris Dandelion
Torilis japonica Upright Hedge Parsely
Trifolium pratense Red Clover
Triglochin palustris Marsh Arrow-grass
Tussilago farfara Coltsfoot
Ulex gallii Western Gorse
Urtica dioica Stinging Nettle
Veronica anagallis-aquatica Water Speedwell
Veronica beccabunga Brooklime
Vicia cracca Tufted Vetch

Colin Sillence Bsc Msc,
Bristol UK ,
August 31st 1996