Ulex europaeus or Gorse is a thorny flowering evergreen plant native to Western Europe and Northwest Africa. Their bright yellow pea-like flowers are usually associated with western Britain and Ireland where gorse grows it is frequently planted and grows in abundance in the wild.
Common gorse flowers throughout the year but is at its very best in spring and early summer when it blooms with an explosion of yellow. The flowers have a very distinctive strong coconut scent especially in warm weather. It bears some flowers year round, hence the old country phrase: “When gorse is out of blossom, kissing is out of fashion”.
The plants are extraordinarily thorny and grow two to three metres tall. In exposed areas they tend to hug the ground and spread their branches widely while remaining less than a metre tall. Gorse can live up to 30 years and thrives in poor growing areas and conditions.
Gorse is a valuable plant for wildlife, in many areas Gorse is one of the first plants to flower, so is an important source of pollen to the early emerging bees. The flowers are also eaten by the larva of some moths.
Many kinds of birds live and feed within the safety of gorse bushes. The dense thorny cover is ideal for protecting bird nests giving protection from mammals, and an escape route from the larger predator birds like hawks and eagles.
One of the most important modern uses for Gorse is in helping establish new woodland and is widely used for land reclamation (e.g. mine tailings).
Gorse is a good nursery environment for native trees and shrubs, which eventually grow through and suppress gorse, allowing native forest regeneration. It provides a sheltered environment from the brunt of the wind with just enough space and light to allow native seed to establish and germinate.
In addition, due in part to its nitrogen fixing qualities, it assists native seedlings to grow. Most plants remove essential nitrogen from the soil, but a few from the pea family, including gorse and the clovers collect abundant nitrogen from the air and provide it to the soil for other plants to use. As gorse matures, the tall (up to 2m) canopy opens allowing light to reach the seedlings. They grow taller, for longer and with a denser canopy than the gorse, eventually suppressing it by restricting the available light.
Gorse is particularly useful in challenging places as it will secure loose exposed topsoil and can grow in places with an oceanic climate, salt laden winds do not harm the plant.
Sowing: Sow in Spring or in Autumn.
Soak the seed in lukewarm water for 24 hours. Fill pots or trays with seed starting compost (John Innes or similar) Stand them in water to moisten thoroughly. Sow the seeds on the surface and lightly cover the seed with compost. Covering the pot with a plastic sheet is beneficial. (If the seeds are planted too deep, this could delay or inhibit the spring germination process.) Germination can be erratic, between 30-120 days.
Transplant seedlings when large enough to handle into 7.5cm (3in) pots or a nursery bed to grow on outdoors. Pot on or transplant to their final place as required.
Plant in sun to light shade, preferably with minimum competition from tree roots.
Gorse grows on most soils but will avoid chalk and lime, preferring the slight acidity of moorlands and dry sandy commons.
Gorse needs to be kept fairly weed free for a year or two until well rooted in.
It will needs clipping in March, with the aim to grow the bush into tight mounds
Although gorse looks a real toughie, it is not very hardy, and samplings can be damaged or killed by severe frosts. Protect in very cold areas.
A sprinkling of gorse sprigs or holly leaves in a seed row will help deter mice and voles from digging up your seeds. The bark and flowers are used to produce a natural yellow dye. Gorse seeds have been soaked, and then used as flea- repellent.
Gorse has long been harvested as a fuel. The very high concentration of oil in its branches, makes it easy to ignite, and also burn well, it is reputed to give off almost as much heat as charcoal. When harvested for fuel gorse is usually cut down to ground level, as a three year rotation.
The alkali rich ashes produced from burning gorse have been for soap-making in solution as lye which was mixed with animal fat. Alkali ashes also are very enriching to the soil, so in the past gorse was often burnt down to improve the quality of the land, which also caused new growth which grazing stock could eat.
Gorse has been often been used as animal fodder in Scotland and Wales. Some grazing animals such as horses and goats can strip off and eat the leaves direct from the plant, but it was usual to bruise them by hand using mallets or through hand or water driven mills and mixed with straw chaff to make fodder, especially for sheep. The resulting crushed matter needing to be eaten quickly so it would not ferment.
The 1799 Encyclopedia Britannica recommends a four year cropping rotation, cutting the gorse back to the stump. “an acre of gorse will provide sufficient winter feed for six horses”.
The plants also make a formidable boundary fencing especially if there are animals kept within that can keep the plant neatly trimmed.
Gorse flowers are edible and can be used in salads. Gorse flowers have been used to add extra flavour and colour to beer in Denmark, whisky in Eire, and wine and tea in Britain. Gorse wine is a lovely yellow wine which tastes very refreshing. Gorse flower buds are pickled in vinegar and then used like capers in salads.
In older times a decoction was made from gorse flowers which were used for its purging effect, treatments for scarlet fever, jaundice, ailments of the spleen and kidney stones.
Gorse is used as a Bach Flower Remedy, and in homeopathy, it helps those who have lost hope, who feel that nothing will ever be better, or that they will never be well again, to have faith in their own inner resources and in a positive outcome. A balm to the heart.
Folklore tells that when the gorse is out of bloom, kissing is also out of season. (Gorse appears to bloom most of the year) Some people hang gorse over their door for good luck. A bridal bouquet often includes a sprig of gorse flowers.
Ulex europaeus is native to western Europe including Britain and Ireland. It can dominate areas where the soil is poor but cannot survive in arid climates, or places where there are extremes of heat and cold.
Britain has three native Gorse species, the Common Gorse, Western Gorse and Dwarf Gorse. Common Gorse is the most widespread and can survive altitudes of up to 3200 metres.
Ulex is derived from the ancient Latin name for this plant.
The species name europaeus is derived from the Latin meaning ‘belonging to’ or ‘of Europe’.
The word Gorse comes from the Anglo-Saxon word gorst, and the common name furze comes from the Anglo-Saxon word fyrs, which means ‘a waste’ perhaps suggesting the open moorlands where it is often found.
The Gaelic name for gorse is Aiteann. Brandon is an old English name meaning gorse hill. The name "Bram" is a shortened version of "Bramble" a Scottish and Irish Gaelic name for a thicket of wild gorse.
Other common names include: Golden gorse, Genista spinosa, Furze, Fyrs, Gorst, Whin, Aiteann, Prickly broom, Ruffet, Frey, and Goss. In the past it has also been known as broom, but these days broom usually refers to a different spineless shrub.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 20 Seeds Family Leguminosae Genus Ulex Species europaeus Cultivar Wildflower of Britain and Ireland Common Name Gorse, Whin, Furze, Prickly Broom.
Wildflower of Britain and Ireland
Other Language Names IR. Aiteann gallda Hardiness Shrub Flowers Bright Yellow Natural Flower Time Mosst of the year