Gorse, furze, furse or whin (Ulex) is a genus of about 20 species of spiny evergreen shrubs in the subfamily Faboideae of the pea family Fabaceae, native to western Europe and northwest Africa, with the majority of species in Iberia.
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 spininess, with the shoots being modified into branched spines 1–4 centimetres (0.39–1.6 in) long, which almost wholly replace the leaves as the plant's functioning photosynthetic organs.
The leaves of young plants are trifoliate, but are later reduced to scales or small spines. All the species have yellow flowers, some with a very long flowering season.
The most widely familiar species is Common Gorse (Ulex europaeus), the only species native to much of western Europe, where it grows in sunny sites, usually on dry, sandy soils. It is also the largest species, reaching 2–3 metres (7–10 ft) in height; this compares with typically 20–40 centimetres (7.9–16 in) for Western Gorse (Ulex gallii).
This latter species is characteristic of highly exposed Atlantic coastal heathland and montane habitats. Western gorse is replaced in the eastern part of Great Britain by Dwarf Furze (Ulex minor), a plant about 30 centimetres (12 in) tall, characteristic of sandy lowland heathland.
Common gorse flowers a little in late autumn and through the winter, coming into flower most strongly in spring. Western Gorse and Dwarf Furze flower in late summer (August-September in Ireland and Britain).
Between the different species, some gorse is almost always in flower, hence the old country phrase: "When gorse is out of blossom, kissing's out of fashion". Gorse flowers have a distinctive coconut scent, experienced very strongly by some individuals, but weakly by others.
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