This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol5-6", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
Though ubiquitous in certain habitats, no traces of Furze occur in Glacial deposits. The present range is from Denmark to Italy, the Canaries, and Azores, or the Warm Temperate Zone. Furze is found in every part of Great Britain northward to Scotland, and though rarer in the North it ascends to 2100 ft. in Wales. It is found in the Channel Islands.
There is not a heath in the country which lacks a patch, however small, of the dry-soil-loving Furze, unless it has been rigorously under cultivation for a long time. But even then a bit here and there will keep cropping up to indicate the former state of the country before the universal enclosure, and consequent obscuring of the native flora, 100 years (or in some cases 200, or even 300 years) ago.
Furze is a dense, much-branched, stunted shrub, with no leaves in the older stages, when they take the form of long thread-like spines, which are straight and furrowed or branching. The stem is hairy and spreading. The cotyledons are succeeded by trifoliate leaves with egg-shaped leaflets which soon disappear.
The flowers are golden-yellow, lateral, with egg-shaped bracts, free, borne upon the spines, the teeth of the calyx coming together, yellow, with black hairs, and shaggy. The wings of the flower are larger than the keel, the petals shortly clawed. The pods are black, and clothed with brownish hair, and on maturity burst and scatter the seeds to a distance.
The plant is 6 ft. high usually. The flowers bloom in April right up to August in different parts or even later, and as early as January in some seasons. Furze is an evergreen shrub, and propagated by seed.
The calyx is larger and coloured, the alae are longer in proportion, and project beyond the keel, being locked at the base with it. When pressed down the flower bursts open. It has thus an explosive motion, much as in Dyer's Greenweed.
Furze is dispersed by ants, and also by the plant itself, the seeds being thrown out of the pods by a catapult movement.
It is galled by Asphondylia ulicis. Pseudococcus aceris and Placop-thorns rhododacty/us also attack it.
The Thysanoptera Thrips ulicis, Sericothrips staphylinus, and the moths Grapholitha ulicetana, Butalis grandipennis, Anarsia spartiella, Gelechia malvella, the Homoptera Livella ulicis and Aphis ulicis feed on it; and so do the beetles Philorhinum sordidum, Micrambe vini, Timarcha violaceonigra, Luperus nigrofasciatus, the Homoptera Delto-cephalus coronifer, Livilla ulicis, and A. rytoena, the Heteroptera Piezodorus lituratus, Heterogaster urticoe, Dictyonota crassicornis, Hypsitylus bicolor, Asciodema obsoletum, etc.
Photc. J H. Crabtree - Furze (Ulex europaeus, L.)
Ulex is Pliny's name, but what he intended for it is wrapped in obscurity; the second name applies to its European distribution.
Furze is called Prickly Broom, Firsun, French Furze, Frez, Fur, Furrys, Great Furze, Furzen, Furzen-bushes, Fuzz, Gorse, Gorst, Goss, Gost, Ling, Lwyce, Ruffet, Thorn, Broom, Vuz, Whin, and Whins.
Photo. L. R. J. Horn
Heathland, With The Common Furze
Common land, with Furze associations, on sandy gravelly soil, forming heath, with Pines in the background, which are often co-dominant on such barren soils. True heath plants, Heather, Heath, etc., replace these under similar conditions.
In Northants it is said:
"When Gorse is out of bloom Kissing is out of season".
A spray of Gorse was inserted in the bridal bouquet in allusion to this. According to Pliny, Furze was used in the collection of gold, the plant being laid down in water to catch any gold-dust brought down by the water. Furze was used for fuel in bakers' ovens and in soap-making, when burnt containing much alkali. It was also crushed and given to horses as fodder, as also to cows and sheep.
Essential Specific Characters: 74. Ulex europoeus, L. - Shrub branched, spreading, with close thorns or spines, leaves small, lanceolate, few, calyx hairy, bracts ovate, flowers yellow, borne on spines, calyx teeth united.