Ulex (commonly known as gorse, furze or whin) is a genus of flowering plants in the family Fabaceae. The genus comprises about 20 species of thorny evergreen shrubs in the subfamily Faboideae of the pea family Fabaceae. The species are native to parts of western Europe and northwest Africa, with the majority of species in Iberia.

Gorse is closely related to the brooms, and like them, has green stems and very small leaves and is adapted to dry growing conditions. However it differs in its extreme thorniness, the shoots being modified into branched thorns 1–4 centimetres (0.4–1.6 in) long, which almost wholly replace the leaves as the plant's functioning photosynthetic organs. The leaves of young plants are trifoliate, but in mature plants they are reduced to scales or small spines.[2] All the species have yellow flowers, generally showy, some with a very long flowering season.

Whin or Gorse on Fife Coastal Trail
Ulex europaeus
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Fabales
Family: Fabaceae
Tribe: Genisteae
Genus: Ulex

11–58; see text.

  • Nepa Webb


The most widely familiar species is common gorse (Ulex europaeus), the only species native to much of western Europe, where it grows in sunny sites, usually on dry, sandy soils. It is also the largest species, reaching 2–3 metres (7–10 ft) in height; this compares with typically 20–40 centimetres (7.9–15.7 in) for western gorse (Ulex gallii). This latter species is characteristic of highly exposed Atlantic coastal heathland and montane habitats. In the eastern part of Great Britain, dwarf furze (Ulex minor) replaces western gorse. Ulex minor grows only about 30 centimetres (12 in) tall, a habit characteristic of sandy lowland heathland.

Whin or Gorse
In full flower at Dalgarven Mill in Scotland.
Fruiting Gorse - Flickr - Tatters ❀
Fruiting at Mallaig, Scotland

Common gorse flowers a little in late autumn and through the winter, coming into flower most strongly in spring. Western gorse and dwarf furze flower in late summer (August–September in Ireland and Great Britain). Between the different species, some gorse is almost always in flower, hence the old country phrase: "When gorse is out of blossom, kissing's out of fashion". Gorse flowers have a distinctive coconut scent, experienced very strongly by some individuals, but weakly by others.[3][4]

Species list

Ulex comprises the following species:[5][6][7]

  • Ulex argenteus Webb
    • subsp. argenteus Webb
    • subsp. erinaceus (Webb) D.A.Webb
  • Ulex borgiae Rivas Mart.
  • Ulex breoganii (Castroviejo & Valdes-Bermejo) Castrovioejo & Valdes-Bermejo.
  • Ulex cantabricus Alvarez & al.
  • Ulex densus Webb
  • Ulex europaeus L.—common gorse
  • Ulex gallii Planch.—western gorse or western furze
  • Ulex micranthus Lange
  • Ulex minor Roth—dwarf furze or dwarf gorse
  • Ulex parviflorus Pourr.
    • subsp. africanus (Webb) Greuter
    • subsp. eriocladus (C.Vicioso) D.A.Webb
    • subsp. funkii (Webb) Guinea
    • subsp. jussiaei (Webb) D.A.Webb
    • subsp. parviflorus Pourr.
  • Ulex salzmanni (Webb) Willk.

Species names with uncertain taxonomic status

The status of the following species is unresolved:[7]

  • Ulex airensis Esp.Santo et al.
  • Ulex autumnalis Thore
  • Ulex baicheri Rouy
  • Ulex boivini Cosson ex Nyman
  • Ulex boivini Webb
  • Ulex bonnieri Hy
  • Ulex bovini Welw. ex Webb
  • Ulex bovini Willk.
  • Ulex ceballosi Pau
  • Ulex ceballosii (Vicioso) Pau
  • Ulex congestus Pau
  • Ulex ericetarum Pourr. ex Willk. & Lange
  • Ulex ericetorum Pourr. ex Willk. & Lange
  • Ulex eriophorus Gand.
  • Ulex flahaulti Hy
  • Ulex funkii Webb
  • Ulex grandiflorus Pourr.
  • Ulex hispanicus auct.
  • Ulex hispanicus Pourr. ex Willk. & Lange
  • Ulex ianthocladus Webb
  • Ulex intermedius Le Gall
  • Ulex lagrezii Rouy
  • Ulex lanuginosus Pourr. ex Willk. & Lange
  • Ulex latebracteatus (Mariz) Rivas Mart., T.E.Díaz & Fern.Prieto
  • Ulex lucidus Willk.
  • Ulex mauritii Sennen
  • Ulex mauritii Sennen & Mauricio
  • Ulex maximilianii Sennen & Mauricio
  • Ulex megalorites Willk.
  • Ulex microclada Sennen
  • Ulex microclada Sennen & Mauricio
  • Ulex mitis G.Don
  • Ulex narcissi Sennen
  • Ulex provincialis Le Gall
  • Ulex provinicialis Loisel.
  • Ulex revurvatus Willk.
  • Ulex richteri Rouy
  • Ulex rivasgodayanus (Cubas) Cabezudo & Pérez Lat.
  • Ulex salzmannii Willk.
  • Ulex sparsiflorus Lange
  • Ulex spicatus Gand.
  • Ulex subsericeus (Cout.) Rivas Mart., T.E.Díaz & Fern.Gonz.
  • Ulex tazensis (Braun-Blanq. & Maire) Pau & Font Quer
  • Ulex vicentinus (Daveau) Castro
  • Ulex vidali Pau
  • Ulex vidalii Pau
  • Ulex willkommii Webb


The following hybrids have been described:[7]

  • Ulex ×flahaultii Hy
  • Ulex ×gonnetii Hy


Gorse may grow as a fire-climax plant, well adapted to encourage and withstand fires, being highly flammable,[8] and having seed pods that are to a large extent opened by fire, thus allowing rapid regeneration after fire. The burnt stumps also readily sprout new growth from the roots. Where fire is excluded, gorse soon tends to be shaded out by taller-growing trees, unless other factors like exposure also apply. Typical fire recurrence periods in gorse stands are 5–20 years.

Gorse thrives in poor growing areas and conditions including drought;[9] it is sometimes found on very rocky soils,[10] where many species cannot thrive. Moreover, it is widely used for land reclamation (e.g., mine tailings), where its nitrogen-fixing capacity helps other plants establish better.

Gorse is a valuable plant for wildlife, providing dense thorny cover ideal for protecting bird nests. In Britain, France and Ireland, it is particularly noted for supporting Dartford warblers (Sylvia undata) and European stonechats (Saxicola rubicola); the common name of the whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) attests to its close association with gorse. The flowers are sometimes eaten by the caterpillars of the double-striped pug moth (Gymnoscelis rufifasciata), while those of the case-bearer moth Coleophora albicosta feed exclusively on gorse. The dry wood of dead gorse stems provides food for the caterpillars of the concealer moth Batia lambdella.

Invasive species

Ulex landscape
Ulex landscape around Corral Bay in Southern Chile

In many areas of North America (notably California and Oregon), southern South America, Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii, the common gorse, introduced as an ornamental plant or hedge, has become an invasive species due to its aggressive seed dispersal; it has proved very difficult to eradicate and detrimental in native habitats. Common gorse is also an invasive species in the montane grasslands of Horton Plains National Park in Sri Lanka.[11]

Controlling gorse on Dartmoor 752
Controlled burning of gorse in Devon, England


Gorse readily becomes dominant in suitable conditions, and where this is undesirable for agricultural or ecological reasons control is required, either to remove gorse completely, or to limit its extent. Gorse stands are often managed by regular burning or flailing, allowing them to regrow from stumps or seed. Denser areas of gorse may be bulldozed.

A whin-stone at Dalgarven Mill, Scotland, used to crush whin for use as winter feed for cattle



Gorse flowers are edible and can be used in salads, tea and to make a non-grape-based fruit wine.

As fodder, gorse is high in protein[12] and may be used as feed for livestock, particularly in winter when other greenstuff is not available. Traditionally it was used as fodder for cattle, being made palatable either by "bruising" (crushing) with hand-held mallets, or grinding to a moss-like consistency with hand- or water-driven mills, or being finely chopped and mixed with straw chaff. Gorse is also eaten as forage by some livestock, such as feral ponies, which may eat little else in winter. Ponies may also eat the thinner stems of burnt gorse.


Gorse bushes are highly flammable, and in many areas bundles of gorse were used to fire traditional bread ovens.[13]

In the island of Guernsey, Channel Islands, many traditional farms had furze brakes. The prolific gorse and bracken would be cut, dried and stored to be used as fuel, with farmhouses having purpose built furze ovens.[14][15]


Gorse wood has been used to make small objects; being non-toxic, it is especially suited for cutlery. In spite of its durability it is not used for construction because the plant is too small and the wood is unstable, being prone to warping. Gorse is useful for garden ornaments because it is resistant to weather and rot.

Common Gorse (Ulex europaeus) flowers close up T2i IMG 101 0837 NR edit
Common gorse flowers

Alternative medicine

Gorse has been listed as one of the 38 plants that are used to prepare Bach flower remedies,[16] a kind of alternative medicine.

Gorse-based symbols

The furze is the badge of the Sinclair and MacLennan clans of Scotland. Compare this with the broom (planta genista) as the emblem and basis of the name of the Plantagenet kings of England.

The flower, known as chorima in the Galician language, is considered the national flower of Galicia in northwest Spain.

The gorse is also the emblem of Brittany and is regaining popularity in Cornwall, particularly on St Piran's Day.

Dartmoor ponies sheltering behind gorse
Dartmoor ponies sheltering behind furze

In popular culture

Its flammability rendered gorse symbolic as quickly flammable and quickly burning out; for example, Doyle, in his book Sir Nigel, has Sir John Chandos say: "... They flare up like a furzebush in the flames, but if for a short space you may abide the heat of it, then there is a chance that it may be cooler... If the Welsh be like the furze fire, then, pardieu! the Scotch are the peat, for they will smolder and you will never come to the end of them."[17]

In many parts of Britain, especially Devon and Cornwall where it is particularly prevalent on the moors, the expression "kissing's out of fashion when the gorse is out of blossom"[18] is a traditional jest as common gorse is thought to be always in bloom. Gorse, or rather furze as it was usually known in the West Country, sprigs were a traditional May Day gift between young lovers in the region, when in fact the blossom is at its peak.

In the first chapter of A. A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh, the titular character, after unsuccessfully climbing up a tree to get some honey, falls out of the tree and into a gorse bush.

In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 1892 short story "The Adventure of Silver Blaze", the trainer of a champion race horse temporarily hangs his coat over a furze bush.[19]

In Thomas Hardy's novel The Return of the Native, Clym Yeobright, the native of the title, becomes a furze cutter after his eyesight suffers from excessive reading.


  1. ^ Cardoso D, Pennington RT, de Queiroz LP, Boatwright JS, Van Wyk BE, Wojciechowski MF, Lavin M (2013). "Reconstructing the deep-branching relationships of the papilionoid legumes". S Afr J Bot. 89: 58–75. doi:10.1016/j.sajb.2013.05.001.
  2. ^ AR Clapham, TG Tutin, EF Warburg, Flora of the British Isles, Cambridge, 1962, p. 331
  3. ^ "Gorse". Plantlife International. Retrieved 14 March 2011.
  4. ^ Moore, Charles (28 September 2009). "Richard Mabey, a writer dropping down to see the natural world". The Telegraph. Retrieved 14 March 2011.
  5. ^ "ILDIS LegumeWeb entry for Ulex". International Legume Database & Information Service. Cardiff School of Computer Science & Informatics. Retrieved 15 April 2014.
  6. ^ USDA; ARS; National Genetic Resources Program. "GRIN species records of Ulex". Germplasm Resources Information Network—(GRIN) [Online Database]. National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland. Retrieved 15 April 2014.
  7. ^ a b c "The Plant List entry for Ulex". The Plant List. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the Missouri Botanical Garden. 2013. Retrieved 15 April 2014.
  8. ^ Pausas; et al. (2011). "Fires enhance flammability in Ulex parviflorus" (PDF). New Phytologist. 193 (1): 18–23. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8137.2011.03945.x. PMID 22039968.
  9. ^ Plants for a Future, database entry for Ulex europaeus
  10. ^ C. Michael Hogan (2008) "Catto Long Barrow field notes", The Modern Antiquarian
  11. ^ Lalith Gunasekera, Invasive Plants: A guide to the identification of the most invasive plants of Sri Lanka, Colombo 2009, pp. 88–89.
  12. ^ Van Hoeffler; et al. (2007). "Suitability of Ulex fodder: a biochemical analysis with emphasis on nutritional content". European Journal of Agricultural Science. 20 (13): 89–102.
  13. ^ "Experimental Archaeology Site at Tunstall". Suffolk County Council. We have tried different woods as fuel to see which is most efficient and our favourite is dead gorse, collected locally and a dominant species on the sandy soils in this area. Analysis of woods used in the Roman salt industry that took place on the estuary a mile away shows they were using the same fuel.
  14. ^ "Out in the fields of gold". Guernsey press. 19 April 2012.
  15. ^ "Les Prevosts farm". guernseygoasdoue. 2015-01-24.
  16. ^ DS Vohra (1 June 2004). Bach Flower Remedies: A Comprehensive Study. B. Jain Publishers. p. 3. ISBN 978-81-7021-271-3. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
  17. ^ Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan (1906). Sir Nigel. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  18. ^ "Kissing's in fashion …". 31 December 2014.
  19. ^ "Silver Blaze" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/SilvBlaz.shtml#3

External links

Agonopterix umbellana

Agonopterix umbellana (gorse soft shoot moth) is a moth of the family Depressariidae. It is native to western Europe, but was introduced to Hawaii in 1988 and New Zealand in 1990 to control Ulex europaeus.

The wingspan is about 21 mm. Adults are on wing from August to April. It hibernates during winter and can reappear in the early spring.

The larvae feed on Ulex and Genista species within silken tubes.

Anarsia spartiella

Anarsia spartiella, the Wanstead grey, is a moth of the Tortricidae family. It is found in most of Europe.

The wingspan is 12–15 mm. Adults are on wing from June to August.

The larvae feed on Ulex and Cytisus species, as well as Genista tinctoria. They spin the shoots of their host plant and feed within.

Bembecia uroceriformis

Bembecia uroceriformis is a moth of the family Sesiidae. It is found in France, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Italy and most of the Balkan Peninsula. It is also found in North Africa (including Morocco) and from Asia Minor to the Caucasus.

The wingspan is 20–24 mm.

The larvae feed on Dorycnium species (including Dorycnium herbaceum), Lotus corniculatus, Ulex europaeus, Ulex nanus, Coronilla emerus, Chamaecytisus species, Cytisus procumbens, Cytisus hirsutus and Corothamnus procumbens.

British NVC community H2

NVC community H2 (Calluna vulgaris - Ulex minor heath) is one of the heath communities in the British National Vegetation Classification system. It is one of five communities categorised as lowland dry heaths.

It has a localised distribution in southern England. There are three subcommunities.

British NVC community H3

NVC community H3 (Ulex minor - Agrostis curtisii heath) is one of the heath communities in the British National Vegetation Classification system. It is one of three communities which are considered transitional between the lowland dry heaths and the wetter communities classified in the NVC as mires.

It is a very localised community. There are three subcommunities.

British NVC community H4

NVC community H4 (Ulex gallii - Agrostis curtisii heath) is one of the heath communities in the British National Vegetation Classification system. It is one of three communities which are considered transitional between the lowland dry heaths and the wetter communities classified in the NVC as mires.

It is a relatively localised community. There are four subcommunities.

British NVC community H6

NVC community H6 (Erica vagans - Ulex europaeus heath) is one of the heath communities in the British National Vegetation Classification system. It is one of five communities categorised as lowland dry heaths.

It has a very localised distribution in southern England. There are four subcommunities.

Cydia succedana

Cydia succedana is a species of moth of the family Tortricidae. It is found in Europe and has been introduced to New Zealand.

The moth flies from April to September depending on the location.

The larvae feed on Ulex europaeus, Genista, Lotus and Cytisus scoparius. The larva is used as an agent to biologically control gorse in New Zealand feeding on the seeds.

Cydia ulicetana

Cydia ulicetana is a moth of the family Tortricidae. It is native to western Europe, but was introduced to Hawaii.

The wingspan is 12–16 mm. Adults are on wing in May and in the south again from July to September in western Europe. Males fly in sunshine, while the females tend to be more crepuscular.

The larvae feed internally in the seedpods of various plants, including Ulex (also Ulex europaeus) and Cytisus species.

Extreme Records

Extreme Records is an Australia-based record label.

The label was founded by Ulex Xane and initially specialised in underground experimental and industrial cassettes. Roger Richards became involved in 1987 and eventually became the label’s director after Xane's departure.

Gorse in New Zealand

Gorse (Ulex europaeus) was introduced to New Zealand in the early stages of European settlement. It is now a major invasive plant species with millions of dollars spent on its control.

Heaths in the British National Vegetation Classification system

This article gives an overview of the heath communities in the British National Vegetation Classification system.

Mirificarma mulinella

Mirificarma mulinella is a moth of the Gelechiidae family. It is found in most of Europe, except Finland, the Baltic region and part of the Balkan Peninsula. It has also been recorded from North Africa.

The wingspan is 6–7.5 mm for males and 5.5–7.5 mm for females. The head is cream to light brown. The forewings are mottled brown, mixed with cream or light brown in the apical third and occasionally also in the posterior third. Adults are on wing from July to November in Europe, but have also been recorded in February in North Africa.

The larvae feed on Ulex europaeus, Cytisus scoparius, Cytisus nigricans, Genista germanica, Lupinus arboreus and Calicotome spinosa. On Ulex and Cytisus scoparius, they make a small hole in a bud that is not fully open and feed on the interior of the flower, before repeating the process in another flower. On Lupinus arboreus, the larvae feed on the leaves instead of the flowers. Larvae can be found from April to early May. Pupation takes place on the ground in a slight cocoon amongst leaves.

Scotopteryx mucronata

Scotopteryx mucronata, the lead belle, is a species of moth in the family Geometridae. It is found in most of Europe, Turkey, Ukraine, West Siberia.

The wingspan is 30–38 mm. The ground colour of the forewing is grey to brownish grey in colour. There is a distinctive brown median band and bounded by darker cross lines. The centre (discal) spot is usually drop-shaped. However, the pattern is variable. The rear wing is greyish. Very similar to Scotopteryx luridata q.v.Adults are on wing from May to June in one generation per year.The larvae feed on Ulex and Cytisus species. The species overwinters in the larval stage.

The Knoll Conservation Park

The Knoll Conservation Park (formerly The Knoll National Park Reserve and The Knoll National Pleasure Resort) is a protected area located in the Australian state of South Australia in the suburb of Crafers West in the Adelaide Hills state government region about 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) south-east of the state capital of Adelaide and about 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) west of the town centre in Stirling.The conservation park consists of land in section 612 in the cadastral unit of the Hundred of Adelaide and which is bounded to the west by the Waverley Ridge Road.The conservation park began by 1917 as a national pleasure resort. On 9 November 1967, it was proclaimed under the National Parks Act 1966 as The Knoll National Parks Reserve. On 27 April 1972, it was reconstituted as The Knoll Conservation Park upon the proclamation of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972. As of 2016, it covered an area of 2 hectares (4.9 acres).

In 1980, it was described as follows:The Knoll Conservation Park lies 13km south-east of Adelaide and is the smallest conservation park on the South Australian mainland. The Knoll is a small crest, 566m above sea level with steep south and east-facing slopes and a relatively flat north-western area. The park is covered by eucalyptus obliqua open forest with an understorey dominated by native plants in the southern and eastern sections, while introduced shrubs such as Ulex europaeus (gorse) are common in the north and west. The northern and western edges of the park support a large number and variety of introduced plant species. Past efforts made to control Ulex europaeus have failed and this species still remains as one of the serious pest plants in the park.

The conservation park is classified as an IUCN Category III protected area. In 1980, it was nominated for inclusion on the interim list of the now-defunct Register of the National Estate, but was withdrawn by the nominator because of its “small size”, “ drastically altered natural vegetation” and the “reserve used primarily for community recreation with little or no conservation significance.”

Ulex europaeus

Ulex europaeus (gorse, common gorse, furze or whin) is a species of flowering plant in the family Fabaceae, native to the British Isles and Western Europe.

Ulex gallii

Ulex gallii, western gorse or dwarf furze is an evergreen shrub in the pea family (Fabaceae), native to the Atlantic coasts of western Europe: southern Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland, the Isle of Man, western France and the northern coast of Spain.

It favours acidic heathy soils and is frequently found in exposed maritime and montane environments. It is more common in the west of its distribution; in eastern England it is replaced in similar habitats by the closely related Dwarf Furze (Ulex minor), with very little overlap in the distribution of the two species.

Ulex gallii is usually 10 to 50 centimetres (4 to 20 in) tall although it may grow up to 2 metres (7 ft). The stems are modified into spines, mostly about 1 centimetre (0.4 in) long, but with some regularly spaced recurved spines of about 3 centimetres (1 in). Like other members of the genus Ulex it has trifoliate leaves as a seedling, but later the leaves are reduced to small scales or spines. The stems are green, and almost wholly replace the leaves as the plant's functioning photosynthetic organs.

The flowers are yellow, 1 to 2 centimetres (0.4 to 0.8 in) long, with the typical pea-flower structure; they are produced principally in the late summer and autumn, rarely before July. The fruit is a legume (pod), partly enclosed by the pale brown remnants of the flower.

Like many species of gorse, it can grow as a fire-climax plant, which readily catches fire but re-grows from the roots after the fire; the seeds are also adapted to germinate after slight scorching by fire.

Ulex minor

Ulex minor, Dwarf Furze or Dwarf Gorse is an evergreen dwarf shrub in the family Fabaceae, native to eastern England, France, Spain and Portugal. It is restricted to lowland heathland habitats.

It normally grows about 30 centimetres (10 in) tall, although in shaded, ungrazed conditions it may reach 1 metre (40 in). It is a low-growing shrub, forming small bushes or often growing mingled with heather. The leaves are limited to scales or small spines, and the shoots are modified into rather soft, green, densely crowded spines, about 1 cm (0.4 in) long.

The flowers are yellow, 1–2 cm (0.4–0.8 in) long, with the typical pea-flower structure; they are produced principally in the late summer and autumn, rarely before July. The fruit is a legume (pod), partly enclosed by the pale brown remnants of the flower.

Due to its relatively soft spines, Dwarf Furze is readily grazed by livestock and wild herbivores.

The distributions of Dwarf Furze and its close relative Western Gorse (Ulex gallii) hardly overlap, even in similar habitats.

Uresiphita gilvata

Uresiphita gilvata is a moth of the family Crambidae. It was first described by Johan Christian Fabricius in 1794 and is found in Europe and North Africa.

The wingspan is 29–37 mm. Adults are on wing from September to October depending on the location.

The larva feed on various low-growing herbaceous plants, including Genista, Cytisus and Ulex.

It is listed as a synonym of Uresiphita polygonalis by some sources.


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