Trees of Dromore Wood
Dromore Wood was originally a private estate and during that time areas were left natural as wild woodland. Then in the 1940s it was taken over by the Forestry Division and worked as a commercial forest.
Consequently the Wood now bears the signs of both distant and more recent past with centuries old beech and ash trees, lime trees and horse chestnuts that would have been planted as ‘exotics’ by the estate owners and the incongruity of native oaks alongside introduced commercially planted Norway spruce.
A healthy mix of native and non-native species exists - except perhaps for the Norway spruce, they dislike the alkaline soil - with canopy and shrub layers creating magnificent habitat. There is even a superb mature elm that has somehow remained unscathed and is responsible for an explosion of immature elms that will, hopefully grow on to maturity.
Ash (Fraxinus excelsior /Fuinseog)
Along with the oak, ash trees are the climax vegetation which means that if nature was left to take its course much of the country would eventually be forested by oak and ash. The ash is the major tree species in Dromore Wood, thriving in the limestone soil and many of the large ash trees here would have been planted in the days of the old estate. The seeds of the ash tree are called ‘keys’ and they hang in bunches slowly turning brown until in late summer the winds scatter them abroad.
Ash trees are particularly important as the root of mature ash trees is used to make hurleys being strong and flexible. Ash is also used in the making of tennis rackets. In Dromore Wood the ash tree is regarded as the ‘Mother of the Forest’ and, wherever a clear area becomes available it will soon be populated by new ash saplings. Given good conditions these saplings could grow to a height of 28 metres.
Birch (Betula pubescens /Beith gheal)
It is believed that a mature birch tree can support up to 200 different species of insects whilst the tiny winged paper-like seeds are a valuable food for birds such as finches. The birch is a pioneer species, one that will be the first to inhabit vacant ground. The light foliage of the birch tree allows other vegetation to grow below it as it does not create a heavy shade. Their flowers are in catkin form.
Birch trees can grow to twenty metres tall and are mature at fifty years of age. You may notice dense tufts of ‘twigs’ in birch trees, these are the result of a fungus TAPHRINA BETULINA which feeds off the bark and trunk of the tree and are known as ‘witches brooms’.
Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa /Draighean)
Perhaps more commonly known as the sloe, the blackthorn is more bush sized than tree, growing to a height of around 4 metres. The blackthorn is also well known for its purplish blue plum-like fruit which are used in flavouring gin and the making of a jelly.
The blackthorn is very early to flower with white blooms covering the tree in April, before the leaves have formed and can make an impenetrable barrier due to the close knit branches which are armed with sharp spines.
Blackthorn is a popular tree for the small birds such as those of the tit family and goldcrests, especially when the tree is in bloom as the flowers attract many insects. The brown hairstreak butterfly lays its eggs on the blackthorn and the caterpillars feed on the leaves. The shillelagh was traditionally made from the blackthorn.
Buckthorn (Rhamnus catharticus /Paide Brean)
Or to give this small tree its full title, purging buckthorn derived from the times gone by when the bark and berries of this tree were used to make a very nasty but effective purgative.
Buckthorn shoots grow in two different ways; the long twigs extend the size of the tree. The shorter twigs, which are many-leaved, form the flowers and fruit. The name buckthorn may have arisen through the similarity of the shorter shoots – growing in pairs - resembling the antlers of a deer.
A lover of lime soils the buckthorn is common in Dromore Wood where it flourishes in the damp lake margins and the moist shade of the taller trees. It is the female tree which develops the clusters of small black berries which are eaten by birds and mammals but not humans! The buckthorn has sharp thorns on its twigs and the dark green leaves are the food plant for the caterpillars of the brimstone butterfly.
Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus /Caorchon)
Few sights are as beautiful in late summer than the guelder rose with its light coloured branches laden with rich, blood-red berries. The guelder rose is colourful throughout the year with its flat clusters of white flowers resembling a piece of lace, pale branches and leaves which turn red during the summer.
This is another of the understorey trees of the forest and, like the hazel, the guelder rose flourishes in the lime rich soil of Dromore Wood. The fruit of the guelder rose is poisonous to humans though not to the woodland birds. This beautiful native tree will grow to a height of four metres.
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna /Caorthan)
The hawthorn tree is also known as the whitethorn and this tree is covered in white blossoms during May which eventually turn to red berries in August and September. A hardy tree which grows to around 8 metres tall, the hawthorn can be found in a variety of habitats but prefers a lime-rich, heavy soil.
The abundant blossom attracts much insect life and many small bird species, such as the tit family are quick to take advantage of this opportunity for a feast. The trunk of the hawthorn tree is a popular feeding ground for tree creepers whilst the thorny twigs make excellent nesting sites for small birds. This tree will grow to around 8 metres.
Hazel (Corylus avellana /Coll)
A common tree in the Burren and Dromore Wood the hazel thrives on the rich limestone soil. Growing to a full height of around six metres the hazel is able to survive comfortably under the high canopy of the larger trees of the forest. This is what is known as the understorey. In spring the hazel tree produces small catkins and in autumn the hazel nuts provide an important food source for the animals of the wood, particularly squirrels and mice.
The hazel tree lends itself to coppicing. This is when the tree is pruned hard which encourages the growth of new long slender branches. These branches would have been used as spars for roofing and the frame for plastering. The low ceiling at the rear of Dromore Castle clearly shows the marks where hazel branches were used as a plastering frame.
Holly (Ilex aquifolium /Cuileann)
The holly is an understorey tree which thrives in the shade of the taller trees. Evergreen with the spiky leaves and red berries so associated with Christmas time, the holly berries are poisonous to humans but are very popular with bird species especially thrushes. The berries are a great food source through the winter months. Holly trees are either male or female and it is the flowers of the female tree which eventually produce berries.
Extremely hardy trees, the holly can survive in open windswept areas such as the Burren but are often stunted through lack of nutrients. In the rich, moist, soil and shelter of the wood they can reach their optimum height of around 15 metres.
Oak (Quercus robur /Dair ghallda) (Quercus petraea / Dair ghaelach)
Ireland was once densely forested and oak was the major species. The numbers of oak trees were greatly reduced through the need for their valuable timber. There are two native species of oak tree, the sessile and the pedunculate oak. Dromore Wood has a number of pedunculate oak and these fine old trees thrive on the lime rich, damp, soil.
Although slow to grow the oak can live to a very old age, hundreds of years, and can grow to a height of thirty metres. Some of the old oak trees in Dromore Wood were probably planted in the days of the old estate. A mature oak tree is a living world of bird, mammal and insect life.
A particular insect, the gall wasp, lays its eggs in a leaf bud of the oak and the leaf then forms a protective cover in the form of a round fruit-like gall. These are known as oak apples and house the grub of the insect. The fruit of the oak is the acorn which is a favourite food of jays, mice, squirrels and badgers.
Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia /Sceach gheal)
Whilst walking through Dromore Wood in late summer you are sure to notice a medium sized tree with leaves similar to the ash tree but the branches will be laden with red berries. This is the rowan or mountain ash. Although the rowan prefers acid soils it grows well in areas of Dromore Wood where there is a well drained peaty top soil.
The dense flowers heads are cream coloured and appear in May but it is the berries which capture the attention. These are used to make a jelly but in Dromore they are eaten by birds and mammals. The trunk of the rowan tree is silver grey and the tree will grow to around 10 metres.
Spindle (Euonymus europaeus /Feoras)
Anonymous for much of the year as it blends in with the other foliage, the spindle suddenly shows its colours in late summer. The leaves, green through the spring and summer turn dark red and the fruits – four lobed – change from green to bright pink. But that is not the final colour of the spindle tree’s palette, as the seed pods split open they reveal bright orange seeds. The flowers are small and greenish-yellow.
The hard, white, spindle wood was used for the making of spindles for woollen thread making before the invention of the spinning wheel and also used for the making of charcoal. The spindle tree reaches a height of six metres and is profuse on the damp, lime-rich soil of Dromore Wood.
Wild Cherry (Prunus avium /Crann silin fiain)
A beautiful tree throughout the seasons of the year, the wild cherry has a distinctive brownish-red, shiny, bark which peels horizontally. During summer the wild cherry will be covered in white blossom and then the fruit will form eventually ripening into deep red succulent cherry.
The fruit of the cherry is eaten by a wide variety of birds and animals in the wood and this is how the plant is distributed to other locations. Birds such as jays and blackbirds may drop ripe cherries in flight and other birds and animals will eat the fruit and deposit the stones far and wide in their dropping.
During late summer into autumn the leaves of the cherry change from green to yellow and red to complete a colourful display. The timber of the cherry tree is much valued by wood turners.
Wych elm (Ulmus glabra /Leamhan sleibhe)
Due to the spread of Dutch elm disease there are fewer elm trees around the country but there remains a superb specimen in Dromore Wood. Soon after the start of the coloured trails, just a few metres into the wood where the path leaves the road you will find it. This tree has also seeded several smaller samples and they can be seen along the road nearby. Time will tell if they too will live long enough to reach maturity. It is thought that the native wych elm is more likely to avoid the disease than English elms as they propagate by seed rather than suckers sent up from the roots of the parent tree. The disease is spread by the scolytid beetle that burrows under the bark spreading a fungus that affects sap movement. Elm trees can live for 500 years and reach a height of 30 metres.