Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Early Spider-orchid

 Early Spider-orchid Ophrys sphegodesThis species of orchid is mainly found on the south coast of England in Dorset, Sussex and Kent and flowers from late March until early June. It has a preference for locations near the sea, largely on shortly grazed turf.

The Early Spider-orchids in Dorset appear earlier than those in Kent and Sussex. Early Spider-orchids usually have 2-7 flowers on a stem although some plants at Samphire Hoe in Kent have up to 17 flowers on a stem. Another feature which varies between colonies is the success of seed setting. They can self-pollinate but most pollination that takes place is carried out by pollinators, largely the male solitary bee, variations in seed setting could be linked to the absence of pollinators. Because Early Spider-orchids rarely reproduce vegetatively the colonies of short lived orchids depend on seed set from the low rate of pollination that does take place.

After a couple of sunny weeks in March I had a suspicion that the Early Spider-orchids would be out at the end of March at Dancing Ledge in Dorset. At this location the orchids are diminutive at 5-15cm high and with their green and brown coloration blend into the shortly grazed grass. A bit of sunlight helped to pick out the glowing green and brown flowers that looked as fresh as chocolate limes.

While they were out at the end of March in Dorset they were not yet flowering at Samphire Hoe in Kent. The Early Spider-orchids at Samphire Hoe are growing on the spoil heap created by the excavation of the Channel Tunnel. It seems that heavy ground disturbance may support the establishment of large colonies of this flower – perhaps by exposing buried seed to suitable conditions for growth. The Early Spider-orchids at Dancing Ledge are largely found between Dancing Ledge and Winspit Quarry, Durlston Park in Dorset also has them – all locations where there used to be large scale quarrying which has now ceased. At the end of April I found them at Samphire Hoe and they were indeed taller and clearly present in thousands. Samphire Hoe seems to be the easiest place to find them as when I went there were directions to the orchids up on a board. There were also wardens around who could also point them out if you manage to miss the thousands of flower spikes. The orchids are not far from the carpark and the paths are definately more wheelchair or pram friendly than a scramble around the quarry at Dancing Ledge.


Anonymous said...

Do you mean "Winspit" quarry Susanne? Winfrith is famous for a nuclear reactor. :-)

Susanne said...

Yes I did mean 'winspit' :) (will correct). I have heard there are some Marsh Helleborines near Winfrith but have yet to get round to looking for them