The neo - Gothic Church at Kylemore Abbey Tourist Attraction

Nature resources

Kylemore Abbey’s 1,000 acre estate is full of flora and fauna waiting to be discovered. We love learning more about the environment around us and how to protect it, and we want to share that passion and knowledge with you.

Learn more about our biodiversity and sustainability plans and see an in-depth look at some of the plants and projects in Kylemore.

And why not immerse yourself in nature and enjoy of some of our nature activity sheets.

Eradicating Rhododendron ponticum – why and how?

Rhododendron, a threat to biodiversity
Late spring, early summer, many visitors to Kylemore Abbey look forward to seeing the rhododendron in flower. The vibrant splash of pink-purple amongst the green backdrop creates beautiful photo opportunities.

Unfortunately for those of us working on the estate, it is a dreaded moment. We know that behind all that beauty lies a darker truth: each rhododendron flower produces up to 7.000 seeds and represents a catastrophic threat to the biodiversity of our woodland.

Biodiversity is an indicator of the health of nature. It describes the richness of all living species in an area, their genetic variety, and the interaction between the species. Over millions of years, all living species on earth have evolved into an intricate web of life. They are dependent on each other for food, procreation, living space, a healthy environment and a stable climate.

If this delicate balance is disturbed, it can have long-lasting and far-reaching effects. On Kylemore estate, the Common rhododendron has invaded the woodland and become the dominant species. It endangers the biodiversity, the natural balance, of the forest, and ultimately, will lead to the catastrophic loss of the entire woodland.
The rhododendron genus is part of the heather family (Ericaceae), and there are about 900 different species worldwide. Of the 900 only one species established itself in Ireland; the Common Rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum). Common rhododendron is a large evergreen shrub that can grow up to 5m in height. It has waxy dark green oblong leaves and bright pink-purple flowers that flower late spring, early summer. Rhododendron likes peaty or sandy acidic soil and mild, moist weather conditions. It is exceptionally hardy, resistant to diseases and doesn’t mind growing in shady conditions. The plant has adapted to living in shaded conditions by lowering its metabolic rate and increasing its total leaf surface. Being evergreen it can make the most of the winter light while other plant species are dormant.
Common rhododendron is native to East and Central Asia and introduced in Ireland in the 1760s. We know that rhododendrons, camellias and magnolias were very popular in Victorian times, an era of plant-hunting enthusiasts. Several new species of rhododendron were discovered in the Himalayan Mountains making the species popular again in the 19th century. We assume that Mitchell Henry, like many estate owners, planted several different species of rhododendron on his estate, including the Rhododendron ponticum, for ornamental purposes.
There are a few reasons why the Common rhododendron is considered an extremely invasive plant species. First of all, it is a non-native plant that invades the habitat of our native species and replaces them. Once it establishes itself, being an evergreen, it will form an impenetrable thicket that casts deep shadows and prevents the regeneration of other plants and trees. It destroys the habitat of our native animals in the process. An estimated only 2% of daylight reaches the woodland floor through rhododendron bushes, versus, for example, 9% of daylight through the canopies of oak or holly trees. The darkness and slow decomposing rhododendron leaves and deadwood create a sterile environment. No other species or young tree saplings have the chance to grow in these circumstances. Eventually, this will result in a monoculture of rhododendron plants.

Another problem with the Common rhododendron is its toxicity. The rhododendron contains grayanotoxins in every part of the plant: the stem, leaves, flowers, pollen and nectar. As a result, no animal will eat the leaves, and very few insect species will feed on the pollen and nectar.
Common rhododendron is a determent survivor. Rhododendron bushes produce seeds after 10 to 12 years, and once they do, as mentioned earlier, they will produce huge quantities of seeds. Rhododendron seeds have 12 months to germinate. The plant also propagates by so-called ‘layering’: a branch from a mother plant touches the woodland floor and forms roots to start a second plant. If you cut a rhododendron, it will regrow vigorously. The stump needs to be treated or completely removed to prevent regrowth and flowering in 3 to 4 years.

Over the past decades, different sections of Kylemore woodland have been cleared of rhododendron. As some sections of the woodland are on challenging terrain it is a slow process. However, we are determined to tackle the rhododendron problem for the foreseeable future and aim to re-create a healthy woodland rich in biodiversity that is a joy for all to explore!