Nature on our doorsteps - Nature’s ‘fairies’

By Rosaleen O'Dwyer

Rosaleen Dwyer is the County Heritage Officer at South Dublin County Council – every week she gives us an insight into the natural heritage around us and the beautiful biodiversity of the plants and creatures

The main reason why plants produce flowers is so that they can reproduce by setting seed. Once formed, these seeds need to be spread far and wide.

One of the more dainty seed dispersal techniques in Nature is the use of fine white fluffy structures that float high into the air, dropping seed somewhere along the way.

Thistles seeds are carried away on fluffy thistledown compressor

Thistle’s seeds are carried away on fluffy thistledown

Children often call these floating balls of fluff ‘Jinny-Joes’, chasing to catch them if they can.

At this time of the year, Thistles, Dandelions and Willow Herbs are producing Jinny-Joes.

The Thistle’s cream-coloured one is known as thistledown, while Dandelion’s Jinny-Joe is a parachute.

For many generations of children, Jinny-Joes were referred to as ‘Fairies’.

If you managed to catch one of these Fairies, you would gently hold it in your cupped hands, close your eyes and make a wish.

Willow Herbs Jinny Joes are elegantly released from long seed pods compressor

Willow Herb’s ‘Jinny-Joes’ are released from long seed pods

You could then remove its seed (or its ‘purse’) before gently releasing it back into the air.

Along with the modern trend for the placement of little wooden Fairy Doors everywhere, a new lore associated with Jinny-Joes is growing.

Children are leaving Jinny-Joes outside Fairy Doors to help the fairy who collects them.

 When enough Jinny-Joes are collected, the fairy grinds them down to make fairy dust.

Not a bad end for an efficient seed-spreading structure!

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