Natures palette at Cabragh Wetlands


Natures colours at this time of the year are spectacular

Wherever you go, the ever changing spectacular colours of your surroundings apply the required shot of dopamine and oxygen to lift your spirits and set you on your way.


Everyone needs a pick me up at the moment but don’t reach for the bottle or the pill-all you need is a stroll, within the prescribed 5Km of course, through a landscape abounding in deciduous trees - Templemore Park, Glengarra Wood, Kilcooley’s wall on the way to Grange, the new walk around Cashel or any millennial forest.

Wherever you go, the ever changing spectacular colours of your surroundings apply the required shot of dopamine and oxygen to lift your spirits and set you on your way.

Here in Cabragh and particularly around the Cosmic Walk, ancient alder and willow with the odd poplar and birch are providing an impressionist palette. We don’t have the towering oaks or beeches and sadly our single Wych Elm seems to have succumbed to Dutch elm disease but a curious eye will pick out the vivid coral pink flowers of the spindle or the blood red crimson stems of the dogwood around both ponds.

Whereas the forty shades of green define Ireland in summer, it is the yellows, reds and browns of garden maples and cherries that give us this unique autumn experience. On the great estates stretching from Laois through south Tipperary and on through south Kilkenny, the spectacular planter beeches are glorious. Late to come into leaf and late to change, the leaves deepen from yellow to a rich shade of orange or yellow-brown before they fall while young beech trees retain their leaves throughout the winter to protect the new buds from frost.

Leaves are the power houses of a tree producing simple sugars directly from water and carbon dioxide. At the end of the growing season, these power houses close down and are for the most part cast off. Since leaves encourage the passage of water through trees and in winter with water hard to come by from the frozen ground allied to the tree’s reduced metabolism, the less water they need the better. The leaves are discarded by the formation of a watertight boundary between the branch and the leaf stem. This isolates the leaf from the tree and this is where the break occurs.

Before that layer has been built up, the most obvious sign of the leaf’s impending fall is the change of colour. This is the breakdown of chlorophyll, the green compound of the leaf. Other compounds which had been masked by the chlorophyll now come to the fore such as flavonoids which are yellow and caretonoids which are red or orange. Their presence is responsible for autumn colour. As the colour balance shifts there are still splashes of eyecatching colour in the abundance of fruits.
Another area of wonder and awe in the landscape are fungi. When the Iceman, the only preserved remains of a stone age man was found thousands of years later at the exit of a glacier in the Austrian Alps, his haversack was found to contain true-tinder fungus which he used to rekindle the fire from the embers he carried wrapped in maple leaves in a birch bark container. The fruiting bodies of fungi are the visible evidence of the intricate breakdown process which is happening all the time in our woodlands.

Fungi not only appear on living trees as parasites but are active also on dead or decaying matter and play an important part in the breakdown of organic matter. Since they lack the chlorophyll necessary to manufacture their own food, they have to take their sustenance from living or dead plants whose complex substances they break down into simple one on which they can feed and grow. Some need wet or even soggy conditions while some prefer the relative dryness of standing trees. They send out threads which form a fine cobweb-like net that penetrates the wood. This web or mycelium is everywhere on a woodland or hedgerow floor living on the dead material produced by trees.

At certain times of the year, this web produces a fruit body-mushroom or toadstool whose spores then begin the process again. Watch out for the bracket fungus, honey fungus, puff balls, stagshorn fungus, slime fungus etc with their beautiful patterns and stunning colours in the dead of winter.

Most fungi are harmless to man but others have deadly properties. Most notorious is the death cap appearing on beech woodland floors and sometimes in pastures and lawns. Few people have survived eating it. No fungus should be eaten unless you are absolutely positive about its identification.

Don’t forget our calendar available from cabraghwetland or any member over the coming weeks.
Wash your hands, social distance, wear a mask.
Slán go fóill.

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