Friday, 29 January 2010

Bee Orchid

Early in the morning when the dew was still on the grass I would walk across the lawn looking for ghostly pink petals and swollen buds caught like moths in the grass. Many years before there had been a small Christmas tree plantation occupying the spot. After two years of giving everyone we knew Christmas trees it was time to get rid of the barren evergreen clump.

Within a year there were a few cowslips flowering in the grass that sprung up. We started by staking the cowslips with canes to mow around them, until one year there were too many cowslips to stake and all the grass was left uncut. Given the chance to flower in June and July we realised that for years dust like orchid seeds had waited in the soil until they had the opportunity of a grassy sward left uncut.

The lips of these orchids are fantastically velvety and do bear a passing resemblance to bees. Because the flowers are a reasonable size and many of the different parts of the flower are clearly differentiated by colour they are a useful flower to look at to get to grips with the structure of orchid flowers. Bee Orchids (Ophrys apifera) grow in open grassland and will quickly colonise disturbed soil, rapidly increasing in number. Although they do not compete well with other plants if the sward becomes too closed they can be found in permanent grassland colonies.

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