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A shrub usually 2 to 4 ft high as seen wild, but occasionally 6 ft or even more high; excessively spiny. The main branches are hairy, and from them spring numerous short side branches which grow horizontally and always end in a stout, sharp spine, the whole forming an intricate formidable mass. Leaves simple, 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 in. long, linear, sharply pointed or reduced to mere spines. Flowers produced singly from the leaf-axils of the previous year’s shoots, on hairy stalks 1⁄4 in. long, transforming the end of the branch into a brilliant raceme of gold. Calyx large, hairy, yellow like the petals, persistent. Pods 5⁄8 in. long, covered with brown hairs, two- or three-seeded.
Native of W. and Central Europe, and abundant in the British Isles, where it covers thousands of acres of moor, common, and heath. Whilst April and early May is the time when the gorse is in its full beauty, it starts flowering in February, and odd flowers may be found at almost all times – a characteristic on which is based the country saying, ‘When furze is out of bloom, then is kissing out of fashion.’ There is but little use for gorse in gardens. It may be employed for covering dry banks, but even there the double-flowered variety described below is much to be preferred.
Dried furze was at one time much used in country places for heating bakers’ ovens, and is still often woven into hurdles for sheltering cattle, forming a good wind screen, not rubbed against or soon knocked down. Owing to the amount of dead twigs and spines inside the outer living layer, gorse plants are very inflammable during hot summer spells. Gorse, therefore, even the double-flowered variety, should not be planted where its firing would be a source of danger to buildings or even to valuable trees.
The common furze has also been grown to some extent as a field-crop to provide winter fodder for cattle and horses, and was then known as ‘meadow furze’. The seed was undersown to a cereal crop and cut in the autumn of the following year and usually every second year thereafter. In the last century its use seems to have been largely confined to Ireland and the hill-farms of the west, but production was large enough for at least two firms to manufacture special crushers; to prepare the gorse for horses an ordinary chaff-cutter sufficed.
In this form the stamens disappear from the flower, either partially or entirely, and are replaced by petals of varying size (U. europaeus var. flore-pleno G. Don; U. e. f. plenus Schneid.). The variety does not produce seed, and must be propagated by cuttings, which should be made of the current season’s wood in August, 3 or 4 in. long, and placed in a cold frame in very sandy soil, and kept close. They will root and grow the following spring. When the roots are 1 in. long, the young plants should be potted in 3-in. pots, ready for planting out whenever required the following winter. It is slower-growing and more compact in habit than the type, and is in every way superior to it as an ornamental shrub for gardens, lasting longer in flower. Like common gorse, it needs a dry, hungry soil and a sunny position to develop its full beauty. In rich soil it grows rank and does not flower so freely. This variety first appeared in the nursery of John Miller of Bristol, about 1828.