Quick facts

Common name: common gorse

Scientific name: Ulex europaeus

Family: Fabaceae (Leguminosae)

Origin: native

Flowering season: January to June

Habitat: woodland rides, under-grazed pastures and waste ground

What does common gorse look like?

Common gorse is a robust, evergreen shrub which is widespread across the UK. It flowers between January and June, though it’s at its peak in April and May.

Flowers: vibrant yellow, pea-like and measuring 2cm in length. Gorse flowers are uniquely scented of coconut.

Leaves: common gorse leaves are long, sharp and spiky in appearance.

Fruits/seeds: common gorse has slightly hairy purple-brown pods that are about 2cm long. Each pod contains 2–3 small, black seeds which are ejected when the pod splits open in hot weather.

Not to be confused with: western gorse (Ulex gallii) and dwarf gorse (Ulex minor). These are almost identical in appearance to common gorse; however they flower at different times and are low growing, unlike common gorse which can reach up to 2.5 metres in height.

Gorse bush in flower against a blue sky

Credit: Sabena Jane Blackbird / Alamy Stock Photo

Where to find common gorse

Common gorse is widespread across the UK in a variety of habitats, including woodland, under-grazed grassland, heaths and coastal habitats.

Look out for its flowers from January to June, although its peak flowering time is April and May.

Male stonechat on a gorse bush

Credit: Richard Steel / naturepl.com

Value to wildlife

Several bird species take shelter in gorse bushes as they are so dense and provide great protection during harsh weather. Gorse flowers are a good source of nectar for bees and butterflies.

Did you know?

A sprig of gorse is often added to the bride’s wedding bouquet as a symbol of fertility.

Mythology and symbolism

Folklore states that when gorse is out of bloom, you should not kiss your loved ones. But, as the different species of gorse bloom throughout the year, it can usually be found year-round. 

Bright yellow gorse flowers

Credit: Sabena Jane Blackbird / Alamy Stock Photo

Uses of common gorse

As gorse’s flowers are so fragrant, they are the perfect addition to salads or steeped in fruit tea.