Ireland has a relatively small number of native species of flowering plants (850).
Over the recent past many of these species have declined in numbers and have even disappeared in parts of the country. There are various reasons for this, including changing agricultural practices, mowing of roadside verges, drainage schemes, overgrazing, housing developments, and the expanding numbers of golf courses.
While picking wild flowers has been a traditional pastime, we are now aware of the risks that it poses. It has certainly been a factor in the decline of certain species such as the Killarney Fern (Trichomanes speciosum), which suffered from collecting during the Victorian era. Even common species such as Bluebells are now threatened by over-picking. Picking flowers should not be encouraged; instead please leave them for others to enjoy. Plants in Nature Reserves and National Parks are protected and should never be picked. Our rarest species are protected under the 1999 Flora Protection Order, which also includes, for the first time, a number of mosses, liverworts, lichens, and algae.
The conservation of these plants must be achieved by protecting their habitats, since these plants do not occur in isolation, but as part of a living biological community. In conserving these habitats it is necessary to continue particular management strategies, often involving the maintenance of traditional farming practices. Outside these areas it is important to maintain features of the landscape that serve as refuges for wild plants, such as hedgerows, ponds, and roadside verges.
Many pest species of plant have arrived in Ireland over the centuries, such as Rhododendron (which threatens the Killarney Oakwoods) and Giant hogweed, which is a nuisance along waterways in the east of the country. Care should be taken to avoid the introduction of any exotic plant species into the wild. The use of ‘wild flower seed’ should also be avoided as many of this is sourced from outside the country, and when this seed interbreeds with native strains this can result in a loss of diversity. Only Irish-sourced wild seed mixtures should be used.
The National Botanic Gardens is taking positive steps to counter the loss of plants in Ireland.
Today we estimate that some 120 species are threatened in the country, of which six are on the verge of extinction without our help. The Botanic Gardens has now established an Irish Threatened Plant Species Conservation Programme, and carries out research on cultivating many of the threatened species in order to build both expertise and knowledge of growing these species.