Northern Ireland's Priority Species

Geranium pratense – meadow crane's-bill

 

Distribution map

Click here to view an interactive map of the Northern Ireland dataset as currently collated by CEDaR.
The map is generated through the NBN Gateway using their Interactive Mapping Tool.

 

Geranium pratense L.
Family: Geraniaceae

Meadow crane’s-bill is a strikingly handsome herbaceous perennial with deeply-cut, jaggedly-toothed leaves and large flowers of an intense blue. In Ireland it is very local as a wild native species, but is frequently grown in gardens and can escape into wild ground.

In brief

  • One stronghold, White Park Bay, is an ASSI
  • Survey and monitoring work is carried out by EHS at White Park Bay ASSI
  • All the population lies within the Causeway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • Implementation of the Northern Ireland habitat action plans for Lowland Meadow and Maritime Cliff and Slope.

Species description
A perennial herbaceous plant with deeply-cut and jaggedly-toothed leaves of fairly typical ‘geranium type’ and large flowers of an intense blue colour.

Life cycle
The plant is perennial with a stout rhizome and some local propagation may arise from division of old rhizomes, but the primary means of local spread is by seed which is readily produced and which is thrown from the parent plant by means of the geranium-type seed dispersal mechanism. Dispersal further afield relies on gathering of hay and its transport away from the site. Although this is important in traditional hay meadows, the plant no longer occupies such habitats in Ireland. The flowers produce their pollen before the female parts are mature — a method of avoiding self-pollination. Pollination is thought to be mainly by Hymenoptera.

Similar species
Of the Irish native geraniums only wood crane’s-bill (Geranium sylvaticum) could be confused with meadow crane’s-bill, but that plant has smaller flowers of a different hue and the two species do not overlap in their natural distributions in Ireland (but the range of meadow crane’s-bill as a garden escape is now extensive).

How to see this species
The native plant is locally common in some places along the north coast of County Antrim, such as at Ballintoy, White Park Bay and about Dunluce Castle. It occurs in road verges and rough grassland near the coast, including the dunes of White Park Bay. Look for the plant from June to August when it is in flower.

Current status
The native plant is now confined to a stretch of the coast between Dunluce Castle in the west and approaching Ballycastle in the east; also on Rathlin Island. The accompanying map also shows the larger number of sites where the plant has been found as a garden escape; at some of these sites the plant appears to be well-established and persistent. Although it is likely that most of these garden escapes are derived from plants imported into Ireland and are not of native stock, some may be derived from native Irish plants taken into cultivation.

Why is this species a priority in Northern Ireland?

  • It is rare with the Irish population restricted to Northern Ireland. The County Antrim plants are the only population in Ireland thought to be native, although some doubt has occasionally been cast on its native status.

Threats/Causes of decline
Some losses occurred before the 1930s by the construction of golf courses at Ballycastle, and post-war building probably destroyed the site at Port Ballintrae where the plant was first reported in 1821: coastal development resulting in loss of habitat remains one of the principal threats. Another is the management of the grassy habitats where it occurs: roadside verges may lose the plant if they are cut at the incorrect time of year.

Conservation of this species

Current action
There is a Northern Ireland Species Action Plan which was published in 2005.

  • One stronghold, White Park Bay, is an ASSI
  • Survey and monitoring work is carried out by EHS at White Park Bay ASSI
  • All the population lies within the Causeway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • Implementation of the Northern Ireland habitat action plans for Lowland Meadow and Maritime Cliff and Slope.

Proposed objectives/actions

  • Maintain the current population of G. pratense at four sites
  • Maintain the current range of G. pratense at two 10x10 km squares
  • By 2015, increase the number of G. pratense populations to five sites
  • By 2015, increase the range of G. pratense to three 10x10 km squares
  • Establish appropriate management on all sites.

What you can do
Any records of this plant on the north Antrim coast from outside its well-known sites are valuable. Send records to The Botanical Society of the British Isles, c/o Department of Botany, National Museums Northern Ireland, 153 Bangor Road, Cultra, Co. Down, BT18 0EU or to CEDaR, National Museums Northern Ireland, 153 Bangor Road, Cultra, Co. Down, BT18 0EU. Tel: 028 9039 5256, cedar.info [at] magni.org.uk.

Further information

Links
Flora of Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Species Action Plan for Meadow Crane’s-bill

Causeway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Northern Ireland Habitat Action Plans

White Park Bay ASSI

Literature
Beesley, S. (2006). County Antrim Scarce, Rare & Extinct Vascular Plant Register. Ulster Museum, Belfast.

Hackney, P. (1992). Stewart & Corry’s Flora of the North-east of Ireland, 3rd edn. Institute of Irish Studies, Belfast.

Preston, C.D., Pearman, D.A. and Dines, T.D. (2002). New Atlas of the British & Irish Flora. Oxford University Press/DEFRA.

Text written by:
Paul Hackney