On this page you can find:


A reminder of the importance of plants to Planet Earth and humans, and the weirdness / wonder of plants

An introduction and links to further information on seaweeds, lichens and mosses - the non flowering plants (cryptogams) that Ellen studied

Features on a couple of plants and links to sites for further information on wild plants in Ireland

Ellen’s Treasures – beautiful plants shown in photographs, specimens and drawings. 


Importance of plants


Plants are incredibly important to the planet. Plants are needed for human life to be possible. The more we know about plants, the better human life can be, and the better we can look after our planet.


“Understanding patterns of plant diversity is crucial to preserving all other forms of life on Earth, including us. Because without plants there would be no humans. Plants create and regulate the air we breathe, and they provide us with food, medicines, textiles to make our clothes and materials to build our homes.” Professor Kathy Willis, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in the wonderful book Botanicum.




Botanicum -a very special book about plants. Here you can see a video of the artist who illustrated the book, as well as pages from the book including a great one on carnivorous plants and another on fungi and lichen.


If you look at the carnivorous plants page, under the Key to plate, 2. you can read how the Sundew plant makes fly soup.


West Cork is a very special place for plants, and Ellen was able to see some wonderful things. Carnivorous plants including Common Bladderwort, three species of Sundew, and three species Butterwort are found near Ballylickey where Ellen lived, and she included them all on her list of over a thousand plants she found in the Bantry Bay area.

Ellen was involved in the early identification of one of the species of Butterwort (Large flowered).


Butterwort leaves were used to separate milk. Botanists were interested in the uses of plants as well as identifying them. Ellen explains in a letter to her botanist friend in England that another plant that is special to West Cork, Irish Spurge (Euphorbia hyberna) was used in fishing. “People here poison fish with it by putting it in rivers, and they eat the fish without injury.” (Ellen to Dawson Turner 15th December 1807)





Seaweeds are marine algae. They are incredibly important to the planet yet we still know surprisingly little about them. Algae are still not well understood, even now, two hundred years on from the work Ellen and her botanist friends were doing. New algae are still being found, with no name, and botanists complain that in some cases there are no good books for identifying species. The work that Ellen was doing to understand them better continues today and is not finished yet. For more see


Lichens are nature’s extreme survivors, and grow in the coldest parts of Antarctica to the driest deserts, to the wettest rainforests, to the highest mountains. While they can grow anywhere, finding them growing luxuriantly (as they do in the Bantry Bay area of West Cork) means that the air is clean and good to breathe. Lichens react quickly to changes in air quality and are useful indicators in showing pollution levels. For more see


Mosses (with liverworts and hornworts) are the oldest land plants on earth. Bog moss (sphagnum) is particularly useful. It forms peat bogs that support a distinct range of plants, and many are protected for wildlife. Peat is dug from other bogs and used as fuel, and as compost for growing plants. In the past it has been used as nappies and surgical dressings because of its absorbent and antiseptic properties. For more see


American video about Cryptogams, wonderful photos, talking about kingdoms, good stuff. It gets part way through then says you can register for a free trial view. 

Well written pieces on cryptogams and each division of them from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

A lovely piece about alien life forms….

“We are surrounded by alien life forms. Alien in the sense that they are foreign to us, but not alien in the sense that we don't run into them every day, for these life forms are often some of the most common.  These include mushrooms and other fungi, seaweeds, mosses, liverworts, lichens and slime molds.”

This page has lots of links on to other places including Oregon State University's

Lichenland which has good diagrams, photos and text. 

Bryophytes is the collective term for mosses, hornworts and liverworts, spore-producing, rather than seed-producing, plants without flowers. Ireland supports a rich and diverse flora of bryophytes with more than 800 species, including hornworts, liverworts and mosses, currently known. For more information see here



photo: Paul Whelan

Moss: Hutchins’ Pincushion 

(Ulota hutchinsiae) -

photo: Rory Hodd



These are the two main online sites for identifying wild flowers in Ireland

Wild Flowers of Ireland

Irish Wild Flowers

The second site (set up by a woman who lived in West Cork) has a specific page on Lusitanian species and it has a number that Ellen writes about in some detail including the Strawberry Tree, Irish Spurge, and Large-flowered Butterwort.

Dwarf Willow is the world’s smallest tree. It is only 1cm - 6cm high. Ellen found it growing on the summit of Knockboy Mountain (706m). In 2015, the bicentenary of Ellen’s death, a walk was organised up Knockboy to celebrate Ellen’s life and her botany.  The dwarf willow was stilling growing there in exactly the same spot over 200 years later.


close up of Dwarf Willow and above the 2015 group on Knockboy Mountain





Ellen often refers in her letters to her plant finds as “gems” “treasures” “little beauties”. Here are some lovely images of them – specimens and photographs, with some stories about them.


  • Facebook Social Icon

Key to abbreviations used in photo captions

HFC  - Hutchins Family Collection  KEW - Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London

NHM - Natural History Museum London. TCC  - Trinity College Cambridge. TCD -  Trinity College Dublin