Common gorse (Ulex europaeus) (or furze or whin) is part of a genus of flowering plants in the family Fabaceae. The species are native to parts of Western Europe and northwest Africa, with the majority of species in Iberia. Common gorse flowers a little in late autumn and through the winter, coming into flower most strongly in spring. Some gorse is almost always in flower, hence the old country phrase: "When gorse is out of blossom, kissing's out of fashion".
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 which almost wholly replace the leaves as the plant's functioning photosynthetic organs.
Gorse thrives in poor growing areas and conditions including drought. It grows in sunny sites, usually on dry, sandy soils, sometimes on very rocky soils, where many species cannot thrive. Its nitrogen-fixing capacity helps other plants establish better.
It is a valuable plant for wildlife, providing dense thorny cover ideal for protecting bird nests. Its flowers are also very much appreciated by bees. The complex morphology of the flowers includes a mechanism which maximizes the pollen taken away by the bees and hence the dissemination. In addition, the seed contains an elaiosome making it disseminated by ants, like several other plants described in this blog. Gorse flowers are edible and can be used in salads, tea and to make a non-grape-based fruit wine.
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.