Our Visitor Experience Officer Paula introduces you to gorse; one of the key plant species on our heathland.

This green, spiny, evergreen densely packed shrub from the pea family thrives well on the sandy soils of our heath. Its bright yellow flowers appear early in the year, but there is normally some gorse in bloom every month of the year, hence the saying ‘when gorse is in bloom, kissing’s in fashion’.

The flowers perfume the air with a ‘coconut suntan lotion’ odour reminding me of holidays in sunnier climes.

The characteristics of this shrub make it an import addition to our heathland, providing shelter for birds and its early flowers offers much needed nectar for the insects.

Villagers of old would come and collect the gorse, in some areas limited to ‘what could be carried on you back’, for various domestic uses. The bark of gorse can produce dark green dyes and the flowers yellow- green. The flowers have also been used to flavour wines and when buds are pickled, they make something akin to capers. However, the ability of the gorse to burn quickly at high temperatures with little ash made it ideal for the bread ovens and its high nutritional value as winter fodder (once bruised) were the main reasons for collection.

Heathlands Reunited: This is part of a series of blogs introducing some of the fascinating creatures we find on our heathlands. They'll all be featuring on our newly interpreted trail on the heath created as part of the Heathlands Reunited Project. This partnership project, led by the South Downs National Park Authority aims to restore and reconnect the precious heathland habitat across the National Park.

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