Friday, 26 July 2013

Grew's Anatomy ...

Here's a gem of an article for anyone interested in the history of botany.

It's all about the 82 illustrated plates included in the1680 book, The Anatomy of Plants, by English botanist Nehemiah Grew. In it, he revealed for the first time the inner structure and function of plants in all their splendorous intricacy.

Check out a delightful Public Domain Review article by Brian Garret, professor of philosophy at McMaster Univerity, who explores how Grew’s pioneering ‘mechanist’ vision in relation to the floral world paved the way for the science of plant anatomy.

‘Nehemiah Grew (1641-1712) is best remembered for his careful and novel observations on plant anatomy, for his role in the development of comparative anatomy and as one of the first naturalists to utilise the microscope in the study of plant morphology. His most lasting work, containing his observations and impressive illustrations, is most certainly his early work ‘The Anatomy of Plants’ begun as a philosophical history of plants published in 1682. Although Grew continued to publish throughout his life, especially on the chemical properties of various substances, all but the The Anatomy have fallen into obscurity.'

'The growth of a plant he deemed to be a function of sap circulating through the tissue, carrying and adding material to the plant. His observations on the bud of the flower revealed the complicated folding of the unexpanded leaves, something that had not been previously seen with the naked eye.'

By Pamela Kelt

Friday, 19 July 2013

Spiritual flower power

We all know that the practice of sending flowers is as old as civilisation itself. Flowers, with all their infinite variety and beauty, carry meanings outside of the rational and material experience. Because they are alive, they are like us, temporary passengers on an exhilarating ride. But they are also connected to parts of nature that we never experience.

Arijit Sarkar has written a fascinating little article on various flowers and their significance.

Orchids relate to a spiritual breakthrough. When this happens, purchase an orchid or accept one as a gift and put it in the sunlit place where you spend the most time. ‘Orchids mark events and track a span of time.

‘If your orchid wilts away, it only shows how far you are moving beyond certain accomplishments. If it thrives, you maintain the plateau you have achieved. Either state of being is fine; think of the orchid as a clock where midnight and noon are marked in the same location.’

All I can say is, whenever I finish a book - or get one published - I buy an orchid. It’s become a tradition in this household.

The orchid pictured was an unexpected thank you gift from The Hub, a local writers' group where I dropped by to chat about my first ever book to be published. It's still flowering and has new flower stems coming through. The book is Tomorrow's Anecdote, a retro newsroom thriller that I wrote at the very desk you can see. It's rather special to me as it was semi-autobiographical - apart from the murder!

By Pamela Kelt

Monday, 15 July 2013

Y is for Yorchids

A Yorkshire Council is doing its bit for orchids this summer. Grass verges alongside a 600m stretch of Manvers Way will remain uncut for the next two months after an observant visitor spotted hundreds of beautiful bee orchids.

They are growing near the bus stop across from Century Business Park. According to the local press, RSPB representative Benjamin Whitworth, said: “We have a fantastic colony of these orchids growing in an area that is unthinkable, due to its location next to a main road.”

And in other news, remember the sad tale of some over-zealous pipe laying in a Yorkshire field on Orchidmania in December?

But I heard from a fellow orchidmaniac last week, that although there is a certain amount of damage, the sight is quite spectacular. Ruth King’s husband took this lovely shot, overwhelmed by the sheer number and variety. 

Ruth wrote: ‘I'm so just pleased to have seen them myself that its good to know they may now be seen by many more. We had had a great time in Millington Pastures nearby, another wonderful site for both orchids and other flora so this was the icing on the cake on the way home.’

I love a happy ending.

By Pamela Kelt

Friday, 12 July 2013

Welsh orchids

The British Isles is rich in wild species. Some recent articles from Welsh enthusiasts caught my eye.

First up is a lovely account of volunteers counting orchids in a wildflower meadow at Plas Newydd, Ynys Môn.

The aim was to find out how many common spotted orchids, northern marsh orchids and rarer greater butterfly orchids grow in the field. The volunteers were also helping Rachel Dolan, the Trust’s new nature conservation intern on Anglesey, to find out how best to enable visitors to get closer to nature and help with ecological monitoring.

Read about how this particular meadow has survived, when 95% of the UK’s other meadows have disappeared. As agricultural improvements were happening all around, this particular field was kept for ball games by the nearby Conway outdoor pursuits centre.  Unbeknown to generations of youngsters from Cheshire, the field, which required summer mowing and winter grazing, became a perfect habitat for wildflowers, including three species of orchid.

When the centre gave up the field four years ago and mowing was delayed until late summer, gardeners watched in amazement at it turned into a colourful carpet of pale purple orchids.

The article reports there are over 150,000 orchids in the meadow.

There’s also a piece on sustainability here.

Another article, cheerfully entitled ‘Bracken Bashing and Butterfly Orchids’ is all about work at Coed Simdde Lwyd and Caeau Llety Cybi.

At Caeau Llety Cybi volunteers did the annual Greater Butterfly Orchid count (and pulled some ragwort). It seems to be a good year for them. They counted 624 compared with a maximum of 363 in previous counts. These are nearly all in one field but there were also more in the second field than has been seen before.

Read about the distinctive greater butterfly orchid which can be found in old hay meadows and unimproved grasslands, such as can be found in Caeau Llety Cybi.  The flower spike can carry around 40 of the vanilla scented flowers.

The Latin name for this lovely plant is Platanthera chlorantha the name Platanthera is derived from Greek, meaning 'broad anthers', while the species name, chlorantha, means 'green-flowered'.

Local wildlife experts admit they don’t understand the increase in numbers at Caeau Llety Cybi although a wet winter may account for the numbers nearly doubling this year, from speaking to the Orchid Society of Great Britain this does seem a likely explanation but there is currently no research we have been able to find which does support this.

Finally, Moths, Meadows andOrchids’ describes a delightful walk in Wales. It makes you want to get our wellies.Walkers found the Common Spotted Orchid and plenty of butterfly orchids, despite the cold spring. Beautiful pictures, John.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Slipper orchids in the spotlight

My first book was published in April and guess what? My husband bought an orchid. Not just any orchid, but a lady-slipper orchid (pictured). It flowered for a month, which wasn’t bad, but gave up when the hot weather arrived. Now, I’m not the only one who has spotted a resurgence of interest in the luscious cypripedium

Orchid-fanciers delighted in seeing hardy lady’s slipper orchids at the Chelsea flower show this year. But, according to Andy Byfield, one of the founders of the wild plant charity Plantlife, they are now cropping up on a wide range of stands.

People either love or hate cypripediums with their unusual shape.

For nearly four centuries, gardeners and botanists have collected the species to near extinction: as early as 1629 – when the species was first documented by botanists – it was being collected for gardens, and such ransacking has sadly continued. By the second half of the 20th century, just a single plant survived in a secret site, following the loss of a second population near Leyburn that fell prey to collectors as late as 1956. Mr Byfield notes that only recently has the species' fortunes in Britain been reversed, following an introduction programme across northern England, from Morecambe Bay to the Durham shores.

Happily, the Chelsea lady slipper orchids came from artificially propagated plants, raised from seed to flowering wholly in cultivation. It seems that folks have realised that they crave a water retentive yet instantly draining compost made up of open, granular inorganic substrates (Andy recommends Tesco cat litter!). And second, a labour of love by a few dedicated growers in Europe and North America has perfected the science of growing these tricky subjects from seeds in laboratory flasks.

He has more tips: they favour a cool, semi-shaded spot with sun for just a few hours a day: a bed on the north side of a wall or building is ideal, and certainly better than under the shade of a bush or tree. Mix in an abundance of gritty material and some potting bark, so that the soil is moisture retentive yet perfectly free draining, and plant your plants a couple of inches deep. Keep well watered (many of the hybrids' parents come from monsoon areas), protect from slugs, and sit back and enjoy. 

By Pamela Kelt