Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Bog Orchid

Looking for the smallest orchid in Britain, the Bog Orchid (Hammarbya paludosa), is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Reaching a maximum of 12 cm high and often as small as 3cm high it is hard to spot, particularly as the whole plant is green.

From experience it is best to see this plant with a knowledgeable guide. Last year I tip toes around some likely bogs with a bird watching friend and my dog. The dog pranced around and found it particularly exciting when he landed in unexpectedly deep pools of water. I found a few interesting species including Dorset Heath, but no Bog Orchids.

This year I signed up to join in surveying Bog Orchids with the Dorset Flora Group. By the time my day for surveying was due good weather meant all the surveying was completed. However the organiser kindly gave me specific directions for where to find these tiny orchids.

Bog Orchids flower from late June to late September flowering earlier in hot summers and later in cool summers. Sun light electrifies the green plants and makes them stand out against the surrounding vegetation which is usually Sphagnum moss. Bog Orchids grow in bogs where there is some flow of water, not in stagnant water. Around the edges of the leaves there is often a fringe of minute green bulbils. These will detach and in ideal conditions develop into new plants.

Bog Orchids are found in Wales, Scotland and Ireland and in a few locations in England restricted to the south west and very north. Growing in bogs it is best if you wear wellingtons when you look for them unless you love getting wet feet.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Fly Orchid

The shape of the flower of the Fly Orchid (Ophrys insectifera) has evolved to attract winged insects; specifically male digger wasps. Perhaps if the pollinator was known before the plant had been named it would more awkwardly be called the Digger Wasp Orchid.

The last weekend in May, Denge Wood in Kent was full of natural history groups. I was out with a group from the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI), we bumped into the Faversham Natural History group and saw hordes of photographers carrying lots of photography gear; tripods, reflectors etc. The attraction is that Bonsai Bank is a great location for orchids and butterflies. A few of us also saw a glow worm crossing the path which is not uncommon there.

Having been told that there were some Fly Orchids near the path one of my companions said he would not look for Fly Orchids but would find them by spotting the trail trampled through the grass that the other group would have left. Fly Orchids are hard to spot and groups of interested people do trample paths to get to what they want to look at. Should we take off our shoes and then we might me more careful about where we step?

Fly Orchids range from Kent to Cumbria in their distribution, but within that range they are restricted to specific areas such as the North and South Downs in Kent. They grow in open grass, well lit woodland edges and scrub. The common factor is the alkaline pH that they favour.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Man Orchid

There were a couple of Man Orchids (Aceras anthropophorum) on the same site at Wye in Kent as the Lady Orchids. While the Lady Orchids were easily seen from a distance it took careful searching through the grass by a companion who knew Man Orchids were somewhere there to find them. At about 20cm high and with a slender raceme of greenish flowers these orchids blend into the grass.

The flowers are quite anthropomorphic as beneath the hood of the flower the lip hangs down split into arms and legs. The hood is yellow-green and the lip is yellow and sometimes edged in red.

The Man Orchids were growing in an area of shade free grass, but they can also be found in open woodland and scrub. When I saw them at the end of May they were in an optimum condition with all the open flowers fresh and some buds still too open. They flower from May – June, as always flowering times can vary according to location, temperatures and previous rain fall. Bearing in mind how cold the winter was it is likely that next year with milder winter temperatures and a little more rain they could have peaked by the end of May.

The Man Orchid is considered endangered and we only found two in flower on the site. It is likely that there were more plants there either not flowering or unnoticed in the sward. Growing nearby were two other green flowered plants with similar leaves; Twayblade Orchids and Common Adder’s-Tongue ferns forming a thick carpet.