Sunday, 1 November 2015

Star jelly in the Burren

The Burren is an amazing area of Ireland that's covered in limestone pavement, making it feel very 'out of this world'. The scenery is beautiful and strange. At first glance appearing lifeless and rocky, it's actually full of weird and wonderful discoveries. It's one of our favourite spots and is always worth an explore while we're here.

The Aran Islands in the distance
The clints (big slabs of limestone) look like giant crazy paving and the grykes (cracks and gaps) are full of wildflowers, ferns and mosses. There always seems to be something growing in the most unexpected of places and this trip we found something very unusual. One of the grykes was full of round green bubbles that my youngest described as 'alien goo'. They looked a little like seaweed, but weren't attached to each other or anything else. They were also soft like jelly. They were a bit of a mystery! 

With a bit of help from twitter, I found out that this is a blue-green algae called nostoc and is found on limestone, particularly in the Burren. When dry it shrivels up, only swelling up when there's heavy rain. It is slightly acidic, further breaking down the limestone. It has the ability to fix nitrogen from the air and contains chloropyll which allow it to use the sun’s energy for photosynthesis. One of the oldest known names for it is star jelly, which was based on the belief that it was a remnant of shooting stars that had fallen to earth.

We also found several different types of fern growing from deep in the grykes ...

There weren't many wildflowers around at this time of year (in Spring it's amazing), but there were still a few sheltering between the rocks.

The limestone was covered in wonderful lichens.

It was another wonderful trip to the Burren!

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