The mentor for our project on native flora, Éireannach, is Zoë Devlin, a wildflower expert, photographer, author, and curator of that great resource Wildflowers of Ireland. In 2016, the National Biodiversity Data Centre awarded Zoë the Distinguished Recorder Award for her contribution to promoting the recording of Ireland’s wildflowers, and for producing a suite of Irish identification aids to encourage new recorders.

Throughout 2017, Zoë has been on hand to help ISBA artists find and/or identify their chosen native plants and she has answered our questions with a great mix of knowledge and patience. As well as all that, Zoë has found time to write a new book Blooming Marvellous: A Wildflower Hunter’s Year. On the eve of the publication of the book, we caught up with Zoë and she kindly agreed to ‘tell us more…’

ISBA: Have there been particular people in your life who encouraged your love of nature?
Zoë: Yes.. a cousin,  Dr Kathleen Lynn, who was greatly inspiring in many other ways too. She showed me my first Heath Spotted-orchid in Glenmalure, handing me a magnifying glass so I could see its intricate beauty.

ISBA: What’s your earliest wildflower memory?
Zoë: Small ‘weeds’ such as Scarlet Pimpernel and Common Field-Speedwell, which grew in between rows of spinach, peas and beans in my mother’s vegetable garden.

ISBA: What made you decide to take up wildflower photography…
Zoë: I was fascinated by photography from a  early age, starting with a Kodak Brownie 127. As I was also hooked on wildflowers, the two came together as major interests quite easily and naturally.

…and to create that wonderful resource  
Zoë: I had so many photographs of our wildflowers and my daughter, Petra, suggested to me that I might share them by creating a website. So she’s to blame!

ISBA: In your work as mentor for ‘Éireannach’, have you come across any surprises?
Zoë: Yes. There are people who know as little about wildflowers as I do about garden plants!

ISBA: How would you compare the two different arts of plant photography and botanical illustration?
Zoë: Both need a lot of time and patience, long years of trial and error to acquire the knowledge and skills needed. The best part of all is that you never stop learning. Difficult to compare..  perhaps botanical illustration is rated more highly because there are now so many people able to take reasonably good photographs….with digital,they take so many, it would be hard for them to be unlucky 100% of the time. But I learned the skill over many years and appreciate the medium immensely when I see really good professional images. But there is such beauty in a well-illustrated flower, whichever medium is applied.

ISBA: Sadly, much of the news associated with ‘nature’ at present seems to be rather disturbing; do you have a good news nature story that you might share with us?
Zoë: Well… there aren’t many of those stories but in the recent Red List of Vascular Plants which reported on the state of our native plant species, there were some .. not many .. species which had moved from being relatively scarce to a better state of distribution. Also, Betony, one of the rare protected species which I watch annually, has increased its spread on a shady bank in Co Wexford.

ISBA: We’ll end on a brighter note! If you had to pick a favourite native plant for each of the four seasons, which would you choose?


Autumn: Autumn Lady’s Tresses

Lady's-tresses, Autumn

Autumn Lady’s Tresses, Spiranthes spiralis, Cúilín Mhuire; photo by Zoe Devlin

Winter: Common Chickweed

Chickweed, Common

Common Chickweed, Stellaria media, Fliodh; photo by Zoe Devlin

Spring: Colt’s-foot


Colt’s-Foot, Tussilago farfara, Sponc; photo by Zoe Devlin

Summer: Grass-of-Parnassus


Grass of Parnassus, Parnassia palustris, Fionnscoth; photo by Zoe Devlin

To find our more about Zoe’s new book, visit here.