Flora of Northern Ireland

Major groups of vascular plants

ClubmossesA small group with only eight species in Ireland, including one alien species. The clubmosses proper, of which the commonest is the fir-clubmoss, have creeping or upright stems covered with small leaves, but the allied quillworts (two Irish species) have tufts of leaves with bulbous bases. Both Irish species of quillworts are submerged aquatics.
Clubmosses, quillworts and the horsetails constitute the so-called "fern allies" because they have similar life-cycles to those of the ferns. Their heyday was about 200 - 250 million years ago when tree-like forms of these plants were dominant in swampy forests, but the surviving species are small to moderate-sized plants.
HorsetailsA small group of seven species, and a few more hybrids, characterised by having a peculiar mode of stem construction, with evident "joints" and a ring or circle of tiny scale-like leaves at each node or joint. Some species are very common such as the water horsetail which grows in ponds, fens and lakes or the common horsetail which grows in dry situations and can be a problem weed in gardens. Some others are much less common, like Dutch rush which grows in shade on river banks in a few places.
Horsetails, clubmosses and quillworts constitute the so-called "fern allies" because they have similar life-cycles to those of the ferns. Their heyday was about 200 - 250 million years ago when tree-like forms of these plants were dominant in swampy forests, but the surviving species are small to moderate-sized plants.
FernsFerns are the oldest group of vascular plants with a fossil record going back many millions of years. They produce neither flowers nor seeds, but reproduce by spores and include common plants such as the male fern, lady fern and soft shield-fern which are common on wayside banks and in woodland.
Conifers'Conifer' literally means 'cone-carrier' and is an appropriate name for most of the plants within the group. They are mainly trees, sometimes of immense height like the Californian redwoods, and they produce seed-bearing cones of varying size and shape according to the species. Only three species are, or were, native in Northern Ireland: Scots pine, juniper and yew. Scots pine is a 'typical' conifer, but juniper and yew are relatively unusual in producing fleshy berry-like single-seeded fruits; juniper is also a shrub rather than a tree. Scots pine probably became extinct in Ireland and the trees now occurring in the country were introduced from Scotland and northern Europe. The vast majority of conifers in Ireland are introductions from abroad.
DicotyledonsThe true flowering plants are divisible into two groups of which the larger is the Dicotyledons. Amongst their characteristics are that they usually (but not always) have flowers with petals, sepals and stamens arranged in multiples of four or five, and their leaves are net-veined. Common examples are buttercups, geraniums, poppies, heathers and all of our native wild shrub and tree species except the juniper, yew and Scots pine. About two thirds of Irish wild flowering plants are Dicotyledons (often abbreviated to 'Dicots').
MonocotyledonsThe true flowering plants are divisible into two groups of which the smaller is the Monocotyledons. About one third of all Irish wild flowering plants are Monocotyledons (often abbreviated to 'Monocots'). Amongst other characteristics they have flowers with petals, sepals or stamens arranged in multiples of three and their leaves are usually long and narrow with parallel veins. There are no trees or shrubs in this group which occurr wild in Ireland (but the cordyline or cabbage-tree, a common tree in gardens, is a Monocot). Familiar examples of Monocots ocurring wild in Northern Ireland are the grasses, the sedges, the rushes, cuckoo-pint, bulrush and yellow flag (iris). Many Monocots have small, dingy flowers because they are wind-pollinated and do not need to attract insects.

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