The 30 years war: the fight against rhododendron

Conservation ranger Peter O’Toole stands in a clearing at Killarney National Park and looks at the rhododendron seedlings poking above the ground. Ten years ago specialist contractors liberated this site from a dense entanglement of the invasive plant and it’s now coming back.

“In three or four or five years’ time the whole place will probably be covered again,” O’Toole says. “It’s just an ongoing battle. People think that you can cut it down and that’s it. I wish that was the case.”

A single rhododendron ponticum can produce a million dust-like seeds – it’s impossible to clear an area once and expect it to remain cleared for good. The shade from its canopy of evergreen leaves eradicates all life beneath it; the plant can resist frost and survive fire. Given the chance, it would happily swallow Ireland’s ancient woodlands.