Cover photo ‘Cotton and Turf in Connemara’ by Deborah Watkins
The landscape seems to transform itself every couple of weeks in Connemara. Perhaps the most striking feature at the moment is the bog cotton that has sprung up amidst the peat and laid out stacks of turf. This plant seems especially strong this year, perhaps due to the mild weather and also the ash enriched soil following the gorse fires last April. After the fires, these same fields were reduced to a black shadow of charred roots and dirt. I find it remarkable that the same earth can not only renew itself in the space of a year but reinvigorate into an oasis of life and colour.
Bog cotton is a species of sedge which begins to flower in April or May. Fertilisation follows in early summer when it’s small brown and green flowers develop hairy white seed heads that resemble cotton. It can be difficult for the observer to discern from the roadside and the effect is rather like a field of large daisies but on closer inspection, the fluffy cotton heads are unmistakable. Unlike Gossypium cotton from which fabric is derived, this species is unsuited to textile manufacturing. However the plant does have a history of various uses as a cotton substitute – in the production of paper and candlewicks in Germany and as wound dressings in Scotland during World War I.
Many headed bog cotton by Deborah Watkins
Bog cotton comes in two forms in Ireland – single headed and many headed bog cotton. The two plants are similar in appearance but flourish differently. The many headed bog cotton grows in pools of water – air canals in it’s roots allow air to pass from the surface to the roots in a kind of ‘snorkling’ process. The leaves of this plant are wide with red tips. The single headed bog cotton does not have these air canals. It grows on the drier surface of the bog and it’s leaves are long and needle like to conserve water.
Single headed Bog Cotton by Deborah Watkins
Cotton fields of Connemara by Deborah Watkins
Like many of our indigenous plants in Connemara, the bog cotton is special to this place and this particular time of year. It is also a reminder of the regenerating nature of the earth in even the harshest of conditions.