Native Irish Trees
Many of the plants in our gardens originate from around the globe, yet many native species are making a comeback with more and more people choosing to grow them in their gardens.
Native simply refers to the plant arriving in Ireland without any help from humans. They are plants that have thrived here for many centuries and they have been here so long that they provide food and shelter for local wildlife and give the landscape seasonal interest throughout the seasons.
The great thing about native Irish trees is that they are much less likely to need watering, fertilising and protecting against pests as they are adapted to the Irish conditions.
Some native trees, such as the traditional Irish Oak are too big for the average garden, but other native trees and shrubs are perfect for smaller gardens as they can be grown as specimen trees, as focal points in borders, or as hedging.
Below we look at some of the best native Irish trees and shrubs to grow in your garden.
Alder (Alnus glutinosa)
One of the most famous native Irish trees is the alder. It’s a quick growing tree that thrives in moist, nutrient-rich soil. This deciduous tree features dark foliage and produces attractive reddish catkins (alder flowers) in winter and clusters of woody fruits in summer.
The alder offers the perfect environment for birds and insects to thrive in your garden. The alder has a conical growth habit (growing in a pyramid shape) and can grow up to 25 metres tall with an average growth rate of 60cm per year.
Silver Birch (Betula pendula)
Silver birch is a striking, medium-sized tree that makes a good ornamental garden tree as it doesn’t grow too large. Featuring light green, triangular-shaped leaves, this tree thrives in a variety of conditions and tolerates cold weather well, although it prefers light, dry and acidic soil.
Birch is fairly fast-growing and can colonise relatively easily, they add plenty of interest to mature gardens and encourage a variety of wildlife and insects to your garden.
The European Holly tree is one of Ireland’s few native evergreens and is perfect for many small gardens and spaces as it doesn’t usually grow beyond one metre high.
Although Holly is most commonly associated with the festive period, the red berries of the holly tree provide a great source of food for wildlife during the cold winter months. As well as being a valuable food source, the prickly dark green leaves provide shelter for many birds and animals throughout the year.
One of the great things about Holly is that it is one of the few trees that are easy to grow. They will grow in sun, or partial shade and can thrive in pretty cold conditions making them a great option for the Irish climate.
Originally a native tree, the Scots pine is a long-needled coniferous tree that supports a wide variety of wildlife. This long-needled pine is famously popular for Christmas Trees, but its long life makes it an incredibly popular tree for many landscapes.
In recent years the Tree Council of Ireland has reintroduced this species into some landscapes to help with biodiversity. The Scots pine can be grown on marginal land where other species of tree would not survive and it flourishes in conditions with poor acidic soil.
Ireland is home to two main types of birch tree, common and silver.
Common Birch (Betula pubescens)
The most common native Irish birch is the common birch. A delicate tree that features fine branches and small leaves, the downy birch is a monoecious tree meaning that both male flowers and female flowers can thrive on the same tree. Appearing in spring from April, male catkins are yellow in colour, while female catkins are typically bright green.
Downy birch will withstand wet soil, which is why you will find birch woods occur widely around lake edges and dried out bogs.
If you are lucky enough to have a large, spacious outdoor space then why not consider planting the humble native oak tree? Ireland is home to two great truly native oak trees, the Sessile Oak and Pedunculate Oak however due to too much harvesting over the years, the Sessile Oak can only be found growing in poor acidic soils in the country’s hilly regions.
If you don’t have a large outdoor space but still want to benefit from the beauty of an Oak tree, then a cultivated species such as a bear oak or scrub oak would be best as they don’t grow as tall as traditional oak trees and still bring all the same beauty to your outdoor space as a native Irish oak.
A native Irish tree that is believed to be the Tree of Knowledge, Corylus Avellana is a large deciduous shrub or small tree with a bushy spreading habit. It has large, mid-green leaves which are broad and almost round. These turn yellow in autumn after the long male catkins appear in January and February. The female flowers on the same tree are tiny and must be pollinated by wind-blown pollen from another tree for fertilization.
Hazel is a tree that is especially valued for its wildlife and habitat conservation values. The plant also provides good foraging and cover for game and nuts are another important product. It grows tall so it does well in areas that get a lot of sunlight with poorer, drier soil.
Tullow, Co. Carlow
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