gorse n : very spiny and dense evergreen shrub with fragrant golden-yellow flowers; common throughout western Europe [syn: furze, whin, Irish gorse, Ulex europaeus]
Gorse (Ulex) comprises a genus of about 20 species of evergreen shrubs in the subfamily Faboideae of the pea family Fabaceae, native to western Europe and northwest Africa, with the majority of species in Iberia. Other common names for gorse include furse, whin and furze.
Gorse is closely related to the brooms, and like them, has green stems and very small leaves and adapts to dry growing conditions, but differs in its extreme spininess, with the leaves being modified into 1-4 cm long spines. All the species have yellow flowers, some with a very long flowering season.
The most widely familiar species is the Common Gorse (Ulex europaeus), the only species native in most of western Europe, where it grows in sunny sites, usually on dry, sandy soils. It is also the largest species, reaching 2-3 m height; this compares with typically 0.2-0.4 m for Western gorse (U. gallii). This latter species is characteristic of highly exposed Atlantic coastal heathland and montane habitats.
Common gorse flowers most strongly in spring, though it bears some flowers year round, hence the old country phrase: "When gorse is out of blossom, kissing's out of fashion". The flowers have a very distinctive strong coconut scent. Western gorse or Dwarf Furze differs in being almost entirely late summer flowering (August-September in Ireland and Britain), and also have somewhat darker yellow flowers than Common gorse.
Gorse is a fire-climax plant, very well adapted to stand-replacing fires, being highly flammable, and having seed pods that are to a large extent opened by fire, thus allowing rapid regeneration after fire. The burnt stumps also readily sprout new growth from the roots. Where fire is excluded, gorse soon tends to be shaded out by taller-growing trees, unless other factors like exposure also apply. Typical fire recurrence periods in gorse stands are 5-20 years.
Gorse thrives best in poor growing areas and conditions; it has been widely used for land reclamation (e.g., mine tailings), where its nitrogen-fixing capacity helps other plants establish better.
It is a valuable plant for wildlife, providing dense thorny cover ideal for protecting bird nests; in Britain, France and Ireland, it is particularly noted for supporting European Stonechats and Dartford Warblers. The flowers are sometimes eaten by the larva of the Double-striped Pug moth and another moth, Coleophora albicosta feeds exclusively on Ulex. In many areas of North America, southern South America, Australia and New Zealand, the Common Gorse, introduced as an ornamental plant or hedge, has become naturalised and an invasive weed due to its aggressive seed dispersal; it has proved very difficult to eradicate.
- Plants for a Future, database entry on uses
- Gorse on www.the-tree.org.uk
- 'A Modern Herbal' (Grieves 1931)
- New Zealand Plants and their Story
gorse in Catalan: Ulex
gorse in German: Stechginster (Gattung)
gorse in Spanish: Ulex
gorse in Esperanto: Ulekso
gorse in French: Ajonc
gorse in Italian: Ulex
gorse in Lithuanian: Dygliakrūmis
gorse in Norwegian: Gulltorner
gorse in Polish: Kolcolist
gorse in Portuguese: Tojo
gorse in Swedish: Ärttörnen