gorse



gorse defined in 1912 year

gorse - GORSE (Ulex europ├Žus);
gorse - The story is told that when that great lover and student of flowers, Linn├Žus, visited England and first saw a heath covered with Gorse in full bloom he fell on his knees enraptured, and thanked God that he had been permitted to see so beautiful a sight. And, indeed, there can be few things in life more inspiring and invigorating than a Gorse common near the sea in the bright May sunshine, the golden blossoms at their brilliantest, their scent at its sweetest and strongest, and a fresh breeze, maybe, blowing in from the ocean. Linnseus went home to Sweden filled with the desire to grow Gorse there, but he failed in spite of all his efforts, for though it is so abundant in Great Britain, it is practically unknown outside Western Europe and the North-West corner of Africa. Not only does a large part of Europe, including Scandinavia, know nothing of it, but in the continents of America and Asia it is a stranger in its wild state. Gerard tells us that in his day - three hundred years ago - even round about Dantzig and Brunswick and in Poland no Gorse whatever grew except a few prized shrubs which were cultivated as curiosities in the most renowned gardens.

But though it is so lovely to look at, it is far from pleasant to handle: -

"Approach it not
For every blossom has a troop of swords
Drawn to defend it."

In other words, its leaves have all been changed into the sharpest of prickles, and even some of its branches have become stout spines. In this way it has learned to protect itself against the browsing animals which dispute for place with it upon the commons, a dispute in which it is victor, for no animal would dare to expose its muzzle to the thrusts of those terrible spines, and so it is left in peace. Originally the Gorse did not possess these weapons of defence; they have been evolved gradually through the ages, as we learn when we look at the development of every Gorse seed to-day. The Gorse baby-plant has its first leaves of ordinary soft green tissue, and they are each composed of three leaflets, just like the leaves of many of its nearest relatives. But after a few of these leaves have appeared, the next few get increasingly narrower and stiffer, until very shortly they are nothing but spines. No doubt in the earliest of days the plants with softer leaves got eaten, and the plants with stiffer ones were alone left, so that the well-armed Gorse bush of to-day is a product of the process known as "the survival of the fittest."

The Gorse is an evergreen, its branches as well as its spines being green. The water-pores, which in most plants are chiefly found upon the leaves, are here hidden in the long furrows of the stem, and are protected by hairs so that rain cannot swamp them, and the air has full access, and they can fulfil their function of getting rid of superfluous vapour from the tissues.

The flowers of the Gorse, though at their best in the spring, may yet be found blooming almost all the year round. "When Gorse is out of flower, kissing is out of fashion," runs the old saying. Each has the characteristic butterfly shape which all the plants of this particular group possess. Outside, it is wrapped in two large yellow sepals; its five petals form the keel, wings and standard - the wings and keel interlocking. If we carefully dissect a flower we can see at the base of each half of the keel a great tooth, and a similar one at the base of each wing, by which the interlocking is effected. We further discover that all the stamens are here joined into a tube round a minute pod; they are monodelphous - "in one brotherhood" - say the botanists.

When the flower is mature it gets rid of its pollen in a very characteristic way. Almost before the flower is open this falls out of the anthers and collects in the keel. When, a little later, an insect comes and seats itself across the keel as on a saddle, down go the wings and keel together with a jerk, up jump the stigma and stamens which were lying within the keel and, as they spring, they throw up with explosive force the mass of flowery pollen that was lying ready there. Hence we call the Gorse an "explosive flower." The pollen strikes the abdomen of the bee whose weight has brought about the explosion, and there it sticks until the next flower is visited, when some of it is rubbed off by the stigmas. Thus does the bee, or some other insect, serve as carrier between Gorse flowers. Although under natural circumstances this performance is brought about entirely by insects, yet if, for the purpose of experiment, we depress the keel with a pin or pencil over a piece of white paper, we can see the pollen shoot out on to the paper, though the explosion is then entirely futile from the plant's point of view.

A little later on there is another explosion in the life of the Gorse, but this time the seed and not the pollen is involved. As the pods mature they turn black and hairy, and when quite ripe they split asunder with a tiny "crack," and shoot out their wee black seeds. In the broom, a very near relative, whose flower is much like the Gorse, the same thing happens on a bigger scale, for the pods are larger and the seeds more numerous. One sunny, windy day the writer remembers being on a certain road in the Highlands where the banks on either side were crowned with broom bushes for a considerable distance. And the lane seemed alive, for every second, first here, then there, there was a little sharp crackling report followed by a fusillade of apparent shot. "The fairies are shooting," said the children, but it was really the broom pods bursting asunder, their halves twisting violently round, and hurling their dry pea-like seeds to the furthest possible point.

The Gorse is also commonly known as the Furze or Whin, or variations of these names; thus it is "Gorst," or "Goss," in some dialects, and "Vuzz" in Devon. The word Gorse itself comes to us from the Gaelic, meaning a sharp point, in allusion to its prickles; the origin of the name Furze is a little obscure. It has been suggested that it is connected with " fir," both tree and shrub being used for firewood, but it is more probable it is connected with fire - a furze bush looking like a fire-bush when covered with golden blooms.

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