Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Monkey Orchid

Monkey Orchids (Orchis simia) lost their habitat through downland being turned over to arable farming. The bright and charming flowers were also unfortunately tempting to pick. Loss of seed setting from flower picking further reduced populations of this lovely plant in the 1930’s. These factors led to its current conservation status of being specifically protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

I went to see it at a site where it has been successfully introduced in Kent. Because of concerns over the vulnerability of the remaining Monkey Orchids in Kent seeds were collected and scattered in 10 sites considered ideal for Monkey Orchids. While Monkey Orchids did not grow in 9 of those sites in the one I visited they have flourished. It is a sheltered sloping field and when I visited at the end of May the grass was covered by cowslips and emerging Monkey Orchid buds.

The flower has a small tail. It is made monkey like by the upturned ends to the side petals lobes of the lip. Currently the plants are found in a few locations in East Kent and Oxfordshire. It grows on well drained chalky soils with a sunny aspect on fields or the edges of woods.  They flower from the end of May into June.

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