The gorse flower (Ulex europaeus) belongs to the family Fabaceae and the genus Ulex. It is also known under the common names furze, whin gorst, goss, frey, fyrs, furrs, fursbush, prickly broom and ruffet. Gorse is an evergreen, robust, spiny and fast-growing shrub that yields clusters of yellow flowers, arranged on long flowering stalks. On average, the flowers measure 2 cm in length. The flowers form legumes (small hairy pods), which contain 3–8 seeds. Gorse is a sweet-scented flower. The leaves are long, narrow and thorn-like. The bushes can grow up to 300 cm tall.
The plant is native to the Atlantic regions of Western Europe. Its natural habitat covers scrublands, wastelands, edges of forests and coastlines. Cultivated as an ornamental and hedge plant, today the gorse plant has a worldwide distribution. It was first brought to the United States in the 19th century. Since then, it has become a troublesome, highly invasive species across India, Australia, South Africa, and North America. Once established, gorse bush colonies are virtually impossible to eradicate. Since the gorse plant is highly saturated with natural oils, it is also a highly flammable, but resilient—regenerates quickly after fire. Gorse pod moths and weevils are sometimes used as natural treatment to curb the further spread of this invasive species.
Etymologically, the flower name gorse has roots in an Old English word “gorst” which means “a wasteland”. The scientific name Ulex was derived from the Celtic word “ec” or “ac” which is translated as a “prickle”. This is a reference to the prickly branches of the gorse bush. In Ireland, gorse is called aiteann, from aith meaning ‘sharp’, and tenn, meaning ‘lacerating’.
What do gorse flowers symbolize?
Based on geography and culture, the gorse flower meaning is not always the same. In certain contexts, gorse flowers are positive and auspicious, while in other contexts, very inauspicious.
Gorse flowers symbolize good fortune
Based on the principle of imitative magic, the golden color of the gorse bloom is a symbol of prosperity and wealth. In older time, gorse increased the value of the land on which it grew. An old British saying goes that “where there’s gorse there’s silver”, and another Gaelic saying mentions “gold under furze (a local name for gorse). In Scotland there is a traditional belief that a season in which the gorse bushes are rich in blossom announces a good harvest to come. Since the gorse flower was a symbol of fertility, as a part of a ritual, gorse torches were carried around livestock, to protect them against sterility.
Gorse flowers symbolize endearing and enduring affection
Another gorse flower meaning is commitment, or “love for all seasons”. The reason is that the gorse blooms throughout the whole year—the plant is called “the never-bloodless furze”. A humorous Scottish saying goes that, “when the gorse is oot o’ bloom, kissin’s oot o’ fashion”. But since the gorse flower never goes out of bloom, one never loses interest in romance. In another folk story, a witty man lying on his death-bed asked his wife not to marry again as long as gorse was in bloom. In Brittany, France’s northwestern region, lovers used to promise each other never-ending love by saying they would love while the gorse flower remained in bloom. This was also reflected in a custom of putting a spray of gorse in the bouquet of the bride.
Gorse flowers symbolize healing
Another gorse flower meaning is healing. Gorse flowers were an Irish remedy for asthma. The flowers were first packed tightly in a crock, and then brown sugar was put on top. The covered crock was stewed slowly in a saucepan. In Scotland, gorse has also been used to cure cough. Because the gorse flowers are yellow, the plant has been used as folk medicine to treat jaundice, cleanse the kidneys and heal urinary infections.
Gorse flowers symbolize protection
In the Irish County Cork, as part of the May Day and at Midsummer festivities, gorse bushes were burned. People believed that this act protected the cows and the crops. Hanging gorse over the door was believed to “keep luck in the house”.
In Wales, gorse hedges used to be planted as barricades to prevent spiteful fairies from coming close. It was believed that the fairies cannot go through the prickly gorse bushes. It was also believed that carrying a sprig of gorse was an amulet that protected travelers from getting lost.
Gorse flowers symbolize sun and light
Gorse was an emblem of the spring equinox and of the Celtic god of light, sun and summer, Lugh, because of its bright yellow blossoms. Gorse also held the status of one of the sacred woods burned on the Beltane bonfires.
Gorse flowers sometimes symbolize anger and calamity
In Britain, along with hawthorn and blackthorn, gorse was never to be brought into the house before Christmas Eve. The reason is probably the connection of the plant with the Crown of Thorns. According to this belief, carrying furze flowers into the house was equivalent to inviting death for one of the family (“gorse in, coffin out”). Along similar lines, it was not recommended to gift someone a gorse flower, as doing do was believed to invite a quarrel between the giver and the receiver, as it symbolize anger.
What do the various colors of the gorse flower mean?
Yellow Gorse Flower
Gorse flowers are always yellow, and there exist no varieties of the plant in other colors. Yellow gorse flower meaning is life energy, light, brightness and vibrancy. The gorse flowers symbolize hope and light, at a time when one feels disheartened.
The Druid priests observed the way in which the plant propagates. They noticed that, in hot sun, the seeds fling off the parent plant as far as possible (up to half a meter away). This ensured that they would germinate in an area that is not overshadowed by the existing branches of the old bushes. Today, it is also known that the gorse seeds retain their ability to germinate up to 30 years. Due to these properties, the yellow gorse flower became symbolic of the pursuit for light, life and resilience.
Interesting facts and characteristics of the gorse flower
- Anecdotes involving two prominent botanists are a testimony to the charming appeal of the gorse flower. It is said that the gorse flower caused the 18th-century German botanist Johann Jacob Dillenius “the greatest delight”. Even more, when the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus camp to England and saw the golden blossoms of gorse flowers, he was completely overwhelmed by the beauty of the sight. He fell down on his knees and thanked God “for the loveliness of the gorse flower”. Linnaeus liked the flower so much, that he tried hard to introduce it into Sweden. Unfortunately, the plant did not survive in Sweden.
- The gorse flowers are edible and high in protein. They have a peculiar, vanilla-coconut aroma. They can be consumed raw in salads and added to tea. Fermented gorse flowers have also been used in intoxicating ale, wine, Danish beer and in Irish whiskey. Using wine vinegar, salt solution and peppercorns, gorse flowers can also be pickled. Gorse has also been used in chocolates and ice creams.
- The gorse plant fixes nitrogen through a symbiotic process with a bacterium in its roots.
- The gorse flowers are perfect flowers—they contain both types of reproductive organs.
- Lugnasdagh, the festival of the Golden Gorse, is celebrated on August, 1 across the Celtic nations.
- Gorse flowers produce yellow and green dyes, while the bark of the shrub gives a dark green dye.
- Gorse bushes provide an important eco service to several species of insects, birds and mammals. During harsh weather, the dense bushes provide a shelter for the birds and the rabbits. The gorse plant provides food for various insects and birds, including Dartford warblers, stonechats and yellowhammers.
- In the past, gorse was used for fuel for firing bread ovens. It was also was used as fodder for the livestock. Bound gorse branches were used as floor and chimney brushes. The dye made from the plant was even used to paint Easter eggs.
The best time to gift someone gorse flowers
Gifting gorse flowers is rather an unconventional choice. According to an old folk belief, gifting a gorse flower should be avoided. Such a gift could cause dispute between two people. It can also bring bad luck to both the one who gifts the flower, and to the one who receives it. Although this is an outdated superstition, it is still a reason some people hesitate to consider this bright yellow flower as a gift.
However, followers of the New Age movement often see a strong spiritual symbolism in the bright yellow gorse bloom. To them, the gorse flower meaning is light, energy and pursuit of truth. They also see other aspects of the gorse flower symbolism, such as love, fertility and abundance. This makes gorse flowers a perfect gift for them.