Native Irish trees have always been rich in history and mythology.
Trees have featured prominently in the culture and society of Ireland from the times of the ancient Celts who believed that Irish trees had mystical powers that could aid them in times of hardship.
Several centuries later, there is a re-emerging interest in the native trees of Ireland. While few may believe that trees have magical abilities today, it does seem that trees in Ireland have untapped potential in helping us overcome a number of adversities, such as the struggle against climate change.
Organisations such as Coillte have fully dedicated themselves to increasing the amount of carbon sequestering done by trees by managing Ireland’s forests on an entirely sustainable basis. In early 2021, Coillte reported how the visitor numbers to their local forests had tripled during lockdown. This proves that Ireland’s woodlands are not just of an environmental benefit to people but an emotional one too.
A little over two years ago, the Irish government announced an ambitious plan to plant 440 million trees in Ireland by the year 2040. This huge endeavour is being undertaken in an effort to combat Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions. It is hoped that this incredible increase in the number of native Irish trees will ultimately create a massive carbon sink that will have a significant positive impact on the currently dire climate crisis.
In order for this goal to be realised, a grand total of 22 million trees in Ireland will have to be planted every year. As outlined in the government’s 2019 Climate Action Plan, they intend to plant an average of approximately 8000 hectares a year.
As the trees of Ireland look set to play a much bigger role in our lives, slowly covering more and more of our landscape in the years to come, it may be worthwhile to take a closer look at some of the native Irish trees in which we here at Irish Trees specialise.
What Trees are Native to Ireland?
The Common Oak Tree is one of many native Irish trees and is able to grow in all Irish soils. Oak trees are some of the longest living trees and are even capable of living for many centuries, provided they avoid infestation or disease. Remarkably, Oak trees can produce 2000 acorns every year and potentially over 10 million acorns throughout their entire lifetime. There are over 600 different kinds of species of Oak trees and some can grow to be over 45 meters tall. The ancient celts believed Oak trees were associated with wisdom and strength. Perhaps this is why they are such a popular choice for memorial trees.
Hazel is another of the native trees of Ireland. It played an important role in ancient Ireland when it was regarded as the Tree of Knowledge. It was widely believed that its nuts could grant immeasurable wisdom and knowledge once consumed. Hazel trees are perhaps one of the smaller varieties of native Irish trees, typically growing somewhere between 12 and 20 ft. The normal lifespan of a Hazel tree is usually 70 to 80 years if well managed. Hazel trees also act as an invaluable wildlife food source as they produce an abundance of fruit and nuts.
The Rowan Mountain Ash is a relatively small native Irish tree but its bright red berries add a vivid splash of colour to the Irish landscape. Within Celtic mythology, the Rowan tree symbolises courage and protection and is seen as the Tree of Life. The Rowan tree favours well drained areas but should thrive and flourish in most soils. Rowan trees are often used in gardens and parks as they are known for their compact size and pretty appearance.
The Holly Tree is also commonly found throughout Ireland. Another relatively small and visually-pleasing tree, many people consider it bad luck to cut down a Holly tree. A Holly tree is either male or female but only the female trees are capable of producing berries. If planted and nurtured in the right conditions, the Holly tree can live for up to 100 years. The Holly tree was considered to be highly sacred in ancient Celtic times and was seen as a symbol of peace and goodwill.
Crab Apple Trees are small deciduous trees that can grow between 4 to 12 metres and live for anywhere between 30 to 70 years, depending on climate and care. These native Irish trees remain attractive looking all year around and are known for their distinctive, colourful petals and blossoms which can range from white, pink or red. The ancient Celts associated this particular native tree of Ireland with love and marriage.
The Alder Tree is a fast-growing, rounded-leaf tree that can grow to a height of 20 metres. One of the most traditional and widely-spread of the native trees in Ireland, the Alder tree tends to grow in damp, marshy areas. The Alder tree has proven to be particularly effective in improving soil fertility. It possesses a bark that is dark and deeply fissured. In ancient Ireland, the trunk of the Alder tree was often used for shields and weapons.
The Sycamore Tree is a large deciduous tree that can grow to a height of 35 metres and live for up to 600 years. This native Irish tree is known for its distinctive bark which is covered in a creamy white and reddish-brown patched surface. The seeds of Sycamore trees are known as “helicopters”, because of their wings that rotate and carry them along the air. Sycamores can grow very fast and their branches are known to spread out to give them a large and impressive rounded dome shape.
The increasing recognition of the importance and effectiveness of native Irish trees in reversing the consequences of climate change looks set to continue. In the coming years, trees will become a steadily more noticeable feature of the Irish landscape as they serve their natural purpose. Therefore, it is best that we all familiarise ourselves with the many native trees of Ireland. Consider funding Tree planting at Ireland’s Largest Private Rewilding project in Dunsany.
Article written by Nicholas Collender.