Only a few different types of plants which can tolerate the wet, acidic conditions grow on blanket bogs. Tough, wiry, grasses grow alongside low-growing shrubs such as heathers, which in summer coat the hillsides with their bloom of purple flowers. The wettest parts of the bog are home to Sphagnum Mosses which absorb lots of water. These mosses help to control the rate at which water runs out of the bog during wet weather or in summer droughts.
When bog plants die, the waterlogged conditions mean that they decay very slowly and over thousands of years they build up to form a thick layer of peat.
Because the dead plants do not decay fully, peat contains only small amounts of the nutrients or food which new plants need to grow. The only nutrients most bog plants can find is from rainwater and many bog plants grow very slowly.
Some bog plants have evolved clever ways of obtaining more nutrients to help them grow. The Sundew catches insects on its sticky leaves and absorbs the nutrients from the insect’s body.
In the Summer the white flowers of Bog Cotton wave like tiny flags over the bog surface. This plant draws nutrients back from its leaves in Winter and stores them in its bulbous roots ready for the next Spring. As the various plants start to die back in the Autumn the bogs take on gorgeous shades of brown and orange colours.
For centuries the bogs of Ireland were regarded as waste land, desolate lonely places only useful for rough grazing and the cutting of fuel. Many farmers did not bother to put their cattle onto the blanket bogs because the grazing was so poor. However in recent years large numbers of sheep have been grazing the blanket bogs in the mountains of Ireland. In some places there are too many sheep and the bogs are badly damaged when the bog plants are killed by over-grazing.
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