Thursday, 7 January 2010

Bird’s-nest Orchid

“That dead looking thing is an orchid?” Even at the height of freshness the flowers of the Bird's-nest Orchid (Neottia nidus-arvis) are pale brown not exciting unless you know that this is not commonly found, and an unusual plant which derives its nutrients solely from fungi.

The name refers to the roots which are reputed to resemble a bird’s nest. I have not seen this myself since I haven’t dug one up and don’t intend to.

The Bird’s-nest Orchid grows in woodland, particularly beech woodland, on chalk soils. It grows where there is a deep layer of leaf mould and the soil is damp but not water logged. It flowers from early May until early July and is more abundant in warm wet springs. Flowers may set seed underground if the flower stem is obstructed from reaching the surface – for example by a rock.

As a saprophyte with no need for chlorophyll or leaves to gain energy from sunlight its leaves are reduced to sheathing scales on the stem. Hard to spot until you know what you are looking for in the leaf litter it found across Britain, especially south-central England.

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