Monday, 24 June 2013

Verging on madness

The A30 and A38 in Devon and Cornwall alone support 430 hectares or 4 square kilometres of flower-rich grassland? Just one junction is home to six orchid species including bee orchids and a staggering 1100 greater butterfly orchids, according to a recent report.

Our wonderful wayside flowers are ‘under attack’, with flowers are being mown down in full bloom, sprayed off with poisons, or smothered with cuttings. Over time, only coarse thugs like thistles, docks and grasses can survive this onslaught.

The organisation Plantlife has launched a campaign which is calling on councils to follow their new guidelines on how to better protect and manage road verges to give our native flora a chance.

Plantlife’s Dr Trevor Dines said: ‘It is almost ironic that the way we manage our road verges now encourages coarse and thuggish plants. Mown verges, smothered in cuttings might as well be just strips of green concrete.

‘Plantlife receives more calls on this subject than any other, from members of the public distraught and angry that their favourite verges full of cowslips and orchids are being mown down in the name of neatness and good management. But it doesn’t have to be this way – we want people to join the campaign, log on to the website and send us your 'before' and 'after' photos to help us lobby for change.’

The importance of road verges:

* there are 238,000 hectares of road verge in Britain, that’s twice as much grassland than is left in the countryside
* road verges and hedgerows are home to over 1,000 species, supporting two-thirds of all our wild flowers
* 33 wayside flowers are threatened with extinction, including Spiked Rampion, Crested Cow-Wheat and Bastard Balm, Long-Leaved Helleborine and Tower Mustard
* with the loss of our natural meadows, wildflowers on road verges play a vital role as a food source for pollinators

Flowers are being cut before they can set seed and energy returned to the rootstock, and then smothered by the cuttings which, as they rot down, add nutrients to the soil. Unfortunately, most wild flowers thrive on poor soil.You can read more on the excellent Plantlife websit.

Join the campaign here.

By Pamela Kelt

Friday, 21 June 2013

Scottish orchids

Or to be more precise, orchids in Scotland.

I'm a fan of Scottish botanical gardens, with their wealth of history, partly inspired by squadrons of intrepid plant hunters.

To make the occasion of the launch of Dark Interlude, a post-World War One romantic mystery set in Scotland, I've collected up a few of my favourite orchid photos snapped north of the border on my many trips.

The first batch is from the fabulous Glasgow gardens. The second is from the newly refurbished glasshouses in the Royal Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh.

While all the trips were fun, some were definitely for research purposes. Am I lucky one!

Both are the most wonderful place to visit, steeped in botanical lore, with the most elegant glasshouses in the country. I might even prefer them to Kew.

A little bit of history. Glasgow Botanic Gardens is an Arboretum and public park located in the West End of Glasgow, Scotland. It features several glasshouses, the most notable of which is the stunning Kibble Palace. The gardens were created in 1817, and run by the Royal Botanic Institution of Glasgow (founded by Thomas Hopkirk of Dalbeth), and were intended to supply the University of Glasgow. William Hooker was regius professor of botany at Glasgow University, and contributed to the development of the Botanic Gardens before his appointment to the directorship of Kew Gardens in London. The gardens were originally used for concerts and other events, and in 1891 the gardens were incorporated into the Parks and Gardens of the City of Glasgow.

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a scientific centre for the study of plants, their diversity and conservation, as well as a popular tourist attraction. Originally founded in 1670 as a physic garden to grow medicinal plants, today it occupies four sites across Scotland - Edinburgh, Dawyck, Logan and Benmore - each with its own specialist collection. The RBGE's living collection consists of more than 13,302 plant species, (34,422 accessions) whilst the herbarium contains in excess of three million preserved specimens.
In future posts, I’ll share some photographs from some notable European botanical gardens, from Tromsø to Heidelberg.

By Pamela Kelt

Friday, 14 June 2013

Catch a glimpse of spider orchids ...

A rare flower which hasn't been seen in Jersey for nearly a century has been found in St Ouen.

It's the first record of the Early Spider Orchid in the island since 1929.

Early Spider Orchids were recorded in Jersey in 1910 with the last record being in 1929. The orchid was discovered by chance by National Trust staff members Sally Dalman and Stephen Le Quesne who were leading a half-term nature club for children. It was found growing on a patch of dune grassland in an area that has recently been intensively managed by the the Trust’s ranger team.

Sally Dalman said: ‘It’s an incredibly exciting discovery and all the Trust staff and many Island botanist’s are thrilled by this find. Finding it was a complete fluke as we were out leading a nature walk at the time.’

The find was verified by the botany section of the Société Jersiaise shortly afterwards.

This species of orchid is mainly found on the south coast of England in Dorset, Sussex and Kent and flowers from late March until early June. It has a preference for locations near the sea, largely on shortly grazed turf.

According to the National Trust, early Spider-orchids usually have two to seven flowers on a stem although some plants at Samphire Hoe in Kent have up to 17 flowers on a stem. Another feature which varies between colonies is the success of seed setting. They can self-pollinate but most pollination that takes place is carried out by pollinators, largely the male solitary bee, variations in seed setting could be linked to the absence of pollinators. Because Early Spider-orchids rarely reproduce vegetatively the colonies of short lived orchids depend on seed set from the low rate of pollination that does take place.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Ups and downs of endangered species

Endangered wild orchids are set to return to the South Downs after pioneering research in Sussex.

Plumpton College students are involved in a detailed project to reintroduce the plants to the county.

With help from experts from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, they will grow 2,500 orchids in a controlled environment using the latest techniques before replanting them throughout the National Park.

The number of wild orchids in the South Downs has dropped drastically during the past 50 years, due to farming. The orchids are tough to grow due to the size of their dust-like seed, which blows away in the wind and has even been known to make it across the English Channel, according to a press report.

The new project sees college students grow the tiny seeds in a specialist lab in Stanmer Park for the first 18 months to two years of their life.

The students plan to nurture 500 of each of the five different types of orchid – the frog orchid, man orchid, heath spotted orchid, bee orchid and musk orchid.

By Pamela Kelt