Wednesday 24 May 2017

Connacht rangers' eastern front

Flower seeds (stock)
Flower seeds (stock)

Weakly zygomorphic in a terminal raceme. Come again?

Okay, it's in a botanical context though, speaking as an aged hack, it sounds like something encountered after a spate of vigorous copy-editing on the late shift of a morning newspaper.

Such flowery words are for flowers. George Orwell, no lover of hyperbole, might not approve, no more than my late former colleague, Eddie Holt, about whom some fine words appeared in this newspaper last Sunday.

Zygomorphic, I learn, is a flower divisible with similar halves only by one plane of symmetry. Geddit? Raceme is a flower cluster with the separate flowers attached by short equal stalks at equal distances along the central system. A bunch of grapes?

The flowery phrases are from Lippert and Podlech in a Collins guide and refer to an attractive plant, Rosebay Willowherb (epilobium angustifolium), two strong stalks of which are firmly attached to an old wall linking equally old houses in Dublin west.

In Ireland west, however, there is rather more than a stalk or two or three and much of that countryside has been happily coming up rose-bays. In Connacht, this attractive wild plant has become widespread, but not everyone approves.

One reader complains about the increasing problem it is causing on his property. Suddenly, this year, it seems to be everywhere, he reports, taking root in gutters and cracks in walls, invading his garden, difficult to control, impossible to eradicate "except by the use of Agent Orange". (This was a deadly defoliant employed by the US in Vietnam to destroy thousands of square miles of jungle forest and also wipe out humans, their Viet Cong enemy).

The orange joke, as it is, is not without some irony as rosebay suddenly appears after landscape fires and notably where there have been timber felling and forestry clearances. That is what has been happening in the west, especially in Sligo, Leitrim and north Mayo.

The Vietnam analogy is a reminder that one of the plant's best known names was once 'bombweed' (or 'fireweed'), so called because of its prolific occupation of devastated urban sites in Britain during World War Two.

The naturalist Richard Mabey - who has now unfortunately ceased contributing his regular pieces to BBC Wildlife magazine - has traced the plant's "explosion" to 1914-18 when, previously scarce, it suddenly appeared in woodland felled for timber for the war effort. Then, a second wave of expansion began in 1940. "Rosebay relishes areas where there have been fires and, after German bombing raids, London's ruins and railways were covered with it," he has written.

Each rosebay plant produces up to 80,000 seeds which are fitted with plumes of featherweight hair which can open like parachutes and drift for long distances.

The two soldiers on duty in Dublin west have travelled far, and I suspect I know from where. The question arises: will they soon be joined by other comrades of the Connacht rangers?

* In Letters to the Editor a reader regetted the disappearance (almost) of St John's Eve festivities. I had planned to mention this - at the risk of repeating myself - but starlings flocked in! May I recommend 'The Year in Ireland' by Kevin Danaher, out of print but worth seeking out.

Sunday Independent

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