The Gap of Dunloe lies on the western border of Killarney National Park, a 10,000-hectare oasis of protected forests, lakes, mountains, bogs, and heath. The park and its surroundings are home to a rich variety of plants and trees, many of which are found in only a few places worldwide. So the next time you are touring the Gap of Dunloe, keep an eye on the vegetation: You don’t know what might be under your feet!
A Geographical Phenomenon
Many plant species found in the region of the Gap of Dunloe and Killarney National Park have their roots in quite distant geographic locations, so you might find arctic-alpine plants, North American species, and Atlantic species all growing within the same area. Atlantic species include St. Patrick’s cabbage, greater butterwort (Pinguicula grandiflora), and the arbutus or strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), which is found in only a few locations outside Killarney. Greater butterwort is also called the Kerry violet, due to its pretty purple bloom. It is an insect-eating plant that lives in bogs.
The exceptionally rare Killarney fern (Trichomanes speciosum) is now almost extinct. This delicate fern thrives in the splash zone of waterfalls and other similarly damp areas, but it was overharvested in the 19th century by pickers who sold it to tourists. It can still be found in Gortcullinane in the Gap of Dunloe and in other isolated mountainous areas where pickers never spotted it.
The Killarney whitebeam (Sorbus anglica) is another unique Killarney plant. This shrub or small tree grows on rocks by the edges of lakes. The more common Irish whitebeam (Sorbus hibernica) is also found in Killarney.
Irish spurge (Euphorbia hyberna) grows in Ireland only in the southwest. The milky sap from the stem is a traditional cure for warts, and fishermen also used it to suffocate fish. Apparently, compounds in the sap stop the fish’s gills from working properly.
Much of the land encompassed by the Gap of Dunloe is blanket bog and wet heath, where you will find such relative rarities as the carnivorous sundew, as well as the bee orchid and several varieties of saxifrage. More common flora include various kinds of heather, gorse, and occasional bilberry bushes. The bogs are also rich sources of many species of mosses, liverworts, and lichens.
Below: the rare Killarney Fern.