Last update: October 17th, 2019 at 9:00 am
The Emerald Isle’s “forty shades of green” showed well on a sunny springtime day in mid-March when NASA’s Terra satellite passed overhead. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer aboard that satellite captured this true-color image of Ireland on March 14, 2016.
Although the singer Johnny Cash sang about it memorably, the beauty of Ireland’s vegetation, and her intense and diverse green colors, have long been the subject of discussion, legend, and song. Indeed, Ireland is closely linked in folklore around the world with the color green – notably the shamrock and the “wearin’ o’ the green” on St. Patrick’s Day.
According to Ireland’s National Botanic Gardens, Ireland is home to a comparatively small flora for a European country, in part because it is a small country, in part because it is geologically not very varied, and, most notably, because much of Ireland was covered with ice sheets until relatively recently (13,000 years ago). It is not the huge diversity of species which gives Ireland its green glow. It is the climate: mild winters and damp summers are ideal for some species to be wearing the national color year-round.
Vegetation grows in three major habitats in Ireland: grassland, heath, and bog. Bogs, also known as peatlands, are broken down into three categories: fens, raised bogs and blanket bogs. Blanket bogs cover much of the hills and west coast of Ireland and are hardy and are able to sustain harvesting for peat. Raised bogs are almost purely made of sphagnum and typically grow on top of water. Fens form in lake basins, and are the precursor to raised bogs. Fens are some of the most fragile habitats in Ireland.
A major habitat that is uncommon in Ireland is forest. While forest plants do grow here, they tend to grow in the open rather than in large communities, making Ireland one of the least forested countries in Europe.