Orchids and an outing
Orchids and an outing
To most of us the word ‘orchid’ conjures up visions of tropical rainforest, hothouses or exclusive florists’ shops: something glamorous, exotic and very expensive. In fact, orchids constitute the second largest plant family in the world, with species in nearly every country, and many wild orchids flourish in the UK, some of these quite common and easy to see. Now’s the time to look.
Here in Wharfedale, Common Spotted Orchids, their leaves dotted with inky spots and attractive flower spikes ranging from pale purple through pink to pure white, and Southern and Northern Marsh Orchids, their flowers a rich rose purple, can all be found in June, often in large numbers. No pampered divas these, they actually prefer rather rough ground like the sides of tracks or roadside verges. They do hybridise, which makes identification tricky – but, unless you’re a keen botanist, why worry? Just enjoy the show.
Of course we have our rarer species too – the Bee Orchid with its red brown lip mimicking the rear end of a bumble bee and the Fly Orchid with a similar development, this time to attract pollinating flies. A good one to look out for is the Common Twayblade, a flower of woodland edges, with its tall spire of yellow-green flowers rising on a long stem which is encircled by just one pair of round leaves – the tway blades. I was shown a fine specimen on a scrappy bit of verge right beside the main road up the Dale.
Orchids have extremely small light seeds and many of them need the help of a particular soil-borne fungus from which they draw sufficient energy to germinate. It’s not a parasitic relationship as it doesn’t seriously damage the fungus, but it’s not symbiotic either, as the fungus receives no benefit from the association. Tiny seeds are easily dispersed, in fact orchid seeds can be whirled right up into the jet-stream and dispersed over huge distances. This is now thought to account for some African species popping up recently in Cornwall and Dorset.
However it doesn’t account for the super-star which we saw last weekend. The WNS summer outing to the area around Silverdale was drawing to an end. We’d spent a happy day looking for flowers and butterflies on the limestone and birds in the reed beds, and now the coach paused in a narrow lane to let us out. We were ushered along a grassy track, past a tent where representatives from English Nature were on watch, to an undistinguished bit of wayside bank – and – a glorious specimen of Lady’s Slipper Orchid! Sturdy stems bore four perfect flowers, the bulbous lower lip – the “slipper” – glistening creamy-red, the long petals above a rich purply-brown. This rare plant had all but disappeared from its sites across northern England. English Nature now has a reintroduction scheme using native stock from Kew. But our plant was probably planted by a Victorian plant-lover and has survived here, carefully watched over by generations of local naturalists. What a finale to our day out!