Plants face icy future

LARGE amounts of water flowing into the North Atlantic from melting Polar ice caps, as a result of global warming, could have serious consequences for growing conditions along our south and west coasts.

The fact so many exotic plants from warmer parts of the world grow so profusely in gardens in Cork, Waterford and Kerry and further up the western seaboard is due to the Gulf Stream.

But, a leading horticulturalist has warned that any lowering of temperatures in the Gulf Stream would have an impact on growth of these plants, many of which are extremely frost-sensitive and vulnerable to colder weather.

Cormac Foley, who over 40 years has garnered vast knowledge in the field, had some interesting things to say during the annual series of winter talks organised by Killarney National Park.

The retired parks superintendent with the Office of Public Works, south-west region, explained that the Gulf Stream, which originates off Mexico, brings water to north-west Europe, lifting our temperature by two degrees. That accounts for a climate that’s milder than, say, places such as Labrador and Newfoundland, in Canada, which are on the same latitude as Ireland.

“The big fear is that the increasing water from ice caps could push the Gulf Stream deeper down from the ocean surface and Europe could lose the temperature benefit it has enjoyed. This could happen much quicker than we think,’’ said Mr Foley.

American scientists tell us huge amounts of freshwater from the melting ice caps are pouring into the world’s oceans. They fear that if the climate heats up fast enough and melts off the remaining polar ice quickly, the discharge of freshwater could disturb ocean currents enough to drastically change the weather on the land as well.

In theory, they say, less salt in the ocean could stall out the Gulf Stream and rob vast areas of their natural heating source, plunging two continents into a cold snap that could last decades or longer.

In his talk, Mr Foley outlined the history of various gardens and the sometimes extraordinary trees and plants that can be found along sheltered bays and short distances inland.

Some of the plants are in Killarney, Sneem, Fota Island, and the two Garnish islands, (Sneem, Co Kerry, and Glengarriff, Co Cork), come from the foothills of the Himalayas, the Canary Islands, Australia and New Zealand.

Fota has a collection of trees and shrubs from all over the world, including a Japanese conifer said to be the biggest in Europe. Muckross Gardens, in Killarney, are famous for rhododendrons and stately Scots pine trees.


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