Saturday, 28 June 2014

News from Newport

Did you know you can see five species of orchid at Newport Wetlands?

They are: Southern Marsh (Dactylorhiza praetermissa), Common Spotted (Dactylorhiza fuchsii), Pyramidal (Anacamptis pyramidalis), Marsh Helleborine (Epipactis palustris) and the tiny, stunning Bee orchid (Ophrys apifera).

They make quite a display, attracting lots of insects. The wetlands is also a treasure for so many other forms of wildlife. Check out the website for sightings and some fantastic photographs. I especially love the shot of the bearded tits on a branch.

To see what’s in store, check out the list of recent sightings from the visitor sightings board that anyone can contribute to. Bird fans should be impressed:

Avocet, bearded tit, black headed gull, blackbird, blackcap, bullfinch, buzzard, canada goose, carrion crow, cetti's warbler, chaffinch, chiffchaff, common crane, coot, cormorant, cuckoo, curlew, gadwall, goldfinch, great crested grebe, great spotted woodpecker, green woodpecker, greenfinch, greenshank, grey heron, house martin, kestrel, lapwing, lesser whitethroat, linnet, little egret, little grebe, magpie, mallard, marsh harrier, moorhen, mute swan, oystercatcher, peregrine, pied wagtail, pochard, raven, redshank, reed bunting, reed warbler, ringed plover, sedge warbler, shelduck, shoveler, skylark, stock dove, swallow, teal, tufted duck, whitethroat, woodpigeon, wren.

If you’re into butterflies, moths, dragonflies et cetera, these have been spotted:

Five-spot narrow bordered burnet moth, bee orchid, black tailed skimmer, broad bodied chaser, cinnabar moth, drinker caterpillar, emperor dragonfly, four spotted chaser, large skipper, marbled white, marsh helleborine, meadow brown, pyramidal orchid, red darter, ringlet butterfly, small tortoiseshell, southern marsh orchid, speckled wood, stickleback. Captions: bee orchid and southern marsh orchid.

To visit, check out the website.

Captions: bee orchid and southern marsh orchid.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Time to campaign

Orchidmania is in the news.

I read a story about a council in Shoreham mowing down orchids - and posted a comment, plugging the Verge Protection Campaign.

They ran a follow-up story!

By Pamela Kelt

Monday, 23 June 2014

Another orchid oops

I quote in full from a discussion forum on CanalWorld.

Orchid fans, beware. This will make your blood boil.

‘One of the volunteers at Hillmorton Locks found what he thought were orchids growing on the lock island.

‘The CRT (Canal and River Trust) were asked to find an expert in case they were rare and protected. Another volunteer identified them as Northern Marsh Orchids. As all orchids are protected by law, red and white tape was stretched across to protect them from the grass cutters. Other volunteers took professional photos. CRT were informed again. They informed the grass-cutting contractor.

‘This morning all available volunteers were there bright and early to protect the orchids until an expert arrived to say if they were common or rare. Then the grass-cutters arrived and with people screaming at the person in charge of the strimmer to stop, he calmly walked onto the island, strimmed right through the tape and started on the orchids until physically restrained. CRT have been informed again and we still await an expert to tell us the value of what has just been destroyed and how to protect the remainder.

‘We also await the arrest of the contractor.’

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Angelic find

Enjoy this poetic description of twayblade orchid in the Chilterns, courtesy of the Guardian's Country diary.

‘Each floret in the shape of a cherubic angel raising its tiny wings to heaven.’

Meanwhile, in KeltneyburnMeadow, volunteers counted individual flower-heads of some of the wildflowers, such as the Twayblade Orchid (Neottia ovata) and Bird’s-nest Orchid (Neottia nidus-avis).  

Friday, 20 June 2014

In the footsteps of Miss Florence

Researching orchids take you to all manner of places.

My latest sojourn started in Massachusetts – and ended up in Jedburgh.

Young Smith College scholar Karen Yu has been working on a project that features the classic orchid illustrations of British illustrator Florence Woolward. She relates them to the college’s botanic garden’s own massive orchid collection.

You can see a short video called ‘The World of Orchids’ here, featuring some beautiful shots of exotic blooms and an interview with Karen herself, who is something of a fan.

I wanted to know more about Florence, but what a mystery! All I had were the dates of her birth and death, and the fact she was born in Belton. Then, a whiff of something intriguing. Apparently, a large collection of watercolours of orchids and fungi were recently discovered by the present Marquis of Lothian, who resides at Monteviot House in the Scottish borders, and identified as those painted by Florence Woolward.

It seems the elusive Miss Woolward was born in Hammersmith and was the daughter if Reverend Woolward, a stern, austere man. She lived most of her life in Belton, Lincolnshire and it was through family connections with the Talbot Sisters that she was commissioned by Schomberg, 9th Marquis to paint a series of orchids and fungi, thought to be found at Newbattle and Monteviot. 

She was neither trained as an artist nor a botanist but following her work for Schomberg she continued to use her artistic abilities at the Natural History museum until her death in 1936.

It seems that 60 of the paintings were chosen for reproduction in four volumes and six were further produced as a limited edition, individually numbered set complete with certificate of authenticity. 

This summer, there's a lecture by Steven Manning on the 'Life and Works of Florence Woolward' at Monteviot House, on Saturday, 16 August 2014 at 6pm. It cost £5 - email for information. On Sunday, 17 August 2014 11am – 4.00pm, the Scottish and Northumbrian Orchid Society display of orchids with chance to purchase from orchid growers.

So, another orchid illustrator to add to my collection. Coincidentally, I shall be holidaying near Jedburgh this summer, so I report back.

By Pamela Kelt

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Spirited efforts to save the Ghost

In 2009, after an absence of 22 years, the ghost orchid was rediscovered in British woodlands, sending the botanical world in to a spin. 

Last officially recorded in 1987, there have been many unconfirmed sightings dating up until 1999, and with periods of up to 37 years between flowering, there is every chance that it will turn up again.

In Britain, the Ghost Orchid has reached an almost mythical status, and is recognised as one of the rarest and most elusive plants to grace our shores. Its diminutive size, pale ethereal appearance, plus its habit of flowering erratically and sporadically have quite rightly earned it a reputation linked with mystery and intrigue. This coupled with a preferred habitat of sun-dappled, dark beechwoods, and short lived appearances, makes it extremely hard to find –living up to its name and exhibiting true ghost-like qualities indeed.

The Ghost Orchid Project needs volunteers so that the core areas where the last records of ghost orchids (or (Epipogium aphyllum) in Britain occurred can be searched on a weekly basis to check for flowering stems.

Additionally, carefully selected sites close to these key areas will also be monitored throughout the season to check for the occurrence of any as yet undiscovered populations.

So what are the known haunts?
Sites are known in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Shropshire and Herefordshire.

Ghost orchids have a lengthy flowering period, which is just one of the reasons why locating them proves to be so difficult. The main season is from mid-July to mid-September, so visits will be taking place all throughout this period.

No specialist botanical knowledge is necessary - basic training will be provided for those who require it, as well as a full briefing before the season begins, complete with all the necessary information. In depth knowledge of the previous sites is also not necessary - again a full briefing will be given before the season starts, complete with maps of the area.

Without volunteers, finding a plant would be virtually impossible, and this enigmatic species could potentially be lost from our woodlands for good.

If you would like to help out and get involved (especially people in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Herefordshire) then contact Stephanie Leese at for further details.

There's some fascinating stuff on the project website, including a delightful link to how some specimens ended up in a Welsh herbarium.

By Pamela Kelt

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Field day for burnt orchids

British native orchids offer a fascinating array of specimens.

One particular gem is the mythical burnt orchid. Ten years ago, Reserve Officer Steve Tillman found around ten years ago at Southerham Nature Reserve in Sussex but no-one has seen them since.

But good news! Senior Ecologist Graeme Lyons has been busy mapping and/or counting the rarer plants of the chalk grassland site Southerham. Originally was concentrating on chalk milkwort and white horehound, and noted less of the former compared to what they recalled in previous years.

However, he says wisely: “I believe this is the fault of our memories though and not a decline in the plant and demonstrates the importance of detailed monitoring. Memories change the more you access them, Excel files don’t.”

Good point.

Then, bingo. Together with  Steve Tillman, he found a single burnt orchid, then four more and another seven. Despite a thorough search, that was it. Twelve specimens tallies with what Tindall recorded, demonstrating the importance of taking accurate grid references.

Happily, now they’ll be able to monitor and safeguard these plants.

Visit Graeme’s blog for more.

By Pamela Kelt

Orange orchid Wednesday

Orange orchids?

Using methods of distant hybridisation and embryo rescue, Greater Kaohsiung’s Agricultural Research and Extension Station introduced an orange-colour gene from Vanda orchids into moth orchids. The result? New varieties of pure orange moth orchids.

Darwin might object, but the station has already developed more than 50 combinations.

With the developed variety “Orange Lover” successfully registered at the Royal Horticultural Society in 2012, three other types of orange moth orchids – the “Orange Girl,” the “Orange Cinderella” and the “Orange Venus” – have recently been approved, marking the start of a new chapter for Taiwan as “moth orchid kingdom,” according to local press.

Moth orchids are popular, and Taiwan faces competition from Europe, China and Southeast Asia, along with the Netherlands. The latter’s advanced cultivating skills and comprehensive marketing strategy has allowed it to become the largest moth orchid sprout producer in the world.

The Thais mean to keep one step ahead, for the pure orange-coloured moth orchid is a cross-bred variety made through the station’s “orchid cross-breeding technique service platform”. This is expected to assist the industry to overcome obstacles in the process of hybridizing to develop new, unique moth orchid varieties.

The genome complexity of these varieties is high and they are difficult to breed using traditional hybridization methods, so there is no fear that companies in the Netherlands can produce similar varieties, he said.

By Pamela Kelt

Monday, 16 June 2014

Rooftop rarity

A web of intrigue surrounds the discovery of a rare orchid growing on a grass roof at a Swanage sewage treatment site.

Keen-eyed locals told ecologists at Wessex Water that an early spider orchid was spotted on the roof last summer, so they were on the look-out this year, according to a press report.

It seems the roof has only existed for 10 years and the orchids take that long to flower. But it’s a mystery how they got on the roof – whether seed was in the soil or blown in from nearby.

Ellen McDouall, senior conservation ecologist at Wessex Water, said: “We don’t know how they got on the roof – whether seed was in the soil or blown in from nearby. Thankfully the roof of the sewage treatment works is under no particular operational pressure, so we are hopeful we will be able to actively manage the land for the benefit of the plant.”

The UK’s early spider orchid populations are restricted to parts of southern England, and the plant is regarded as rare. However, where the flowers do grow, they can do so in significant numbers. Purbeck limestone cliffs are one of three UK strongholds for the species, the others being Kent and Suffolk.

It belongs to the intriguing group Ophrys, whose flowers evolved to look like specific insect species, but they emit an enticing cocktail of chemicals. These mimic pheromones released by the female of the species and lure males to the flower.

The orchid has distinctive yellow-green to brownish green petals and sepals. The lip looks like a large, furry spider and is purple-brown in colour with a velvety appearance with a patch of bluish or violet markings in the centre, known as the ‘mirror’ or ‘'speculum’. The marking may take the form of a capital or sometimes an X.

The early spider orchid is a short-lived perennial herb which mainly reproduces by seed, and whose populations fluctuate from year to year. Up to 70% of the plants flower in the first year that they appear, and most die afterwards, but some may live for up to 10 years. About half of the plants are dormant underground each year. Leaves grow from the tubers in late autumn and over winter, withering after flowering. It persists through the summer as underground tubers (6).

This orchid flowers in early April to early May, a good month before the aptly named late spider orchid (Ophrys fusciflora). Flowers are pollinated by bees of the genus Andrena, but only around 10% of the flowers produce ripe seed. Self-pollination does occur, but it is inefficient.

As the plant is rare, be warned. Anyone uprooting, cutting, selling or destroying the early spider orchid could face arrest, as it is protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

It’s apt that the early spider orchid is also used as part of the Dorset Wildlife Trust's (DWT) logo. A DWT spokesman said: “This is a lovely find as the early spider orchid is nationally scarce.”

Lucy McCormick of Wessex Water agrees. 'It was a fantastic find and it has chosen a great location to root itself away from the hustle and bustle of life.'

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Wild for orchids

I tripped over a delightful piece about how wild orchids are flourishing in Sussex.

It is thought that even the extremely rare lady orchid has reappeared in the county, according to columnist Richard Williamson. Orchid fans are even hoping to find a prized lizard orchid as well.

There’s some lovely history about how lady orchids were seen in 1935 in Arundel Park and in 1959 by the late Oliver Buckle at Chanctonbury Ring.

Beachy Head has been the mecca for orchid watchers this year, with many of the rare burnt-tip orchids to be seen.

He notes that more commoner orchids have done well, too including fly orchids and green-winged orchids.

Here’s a round up of some other locations around and about, all bristling with early summer orchids:

Newport Wetlands

Portstewart, Londonderry
Guided orchid walk on the 22 June. Here's the Facebook page for updates with day-by-day pics and updates of the dune flora and fauna.

Gower Peninsula

Currently, the Northern Marsh orchid and Greater Spotted orchid are in flower.

Saltholme nature reserve

Wheatland Farm, Winkleigh, Devon.
Best to call first, and apologies, but no dogs.

By Pamela Kelt

Saturday, 14 June 2014

A rural ritual

In deepest Reading, wild life enthusiast Adrian Lawson shares a lovely concept. As he says: ‘Now is the time of the year when I wander around meadows staring at the ground.’

He’s on the hunt for flowers, butterflies, hoverflies, wasps and beetles – and orchids.

Over the past 20 or so years, he reckons he’s found most of the species that bloom locally.

It is heartening to read that some even grown in parks, as the wildflower meadows have been managed for nature since 1990.

However, some orchids have disappeared, due to neglect – or unnecessary council mowing.

I was delighted to hear that he even carries out a bit of maintenance, uprooting a threatening bramble seedling for example, if there is a chance it will threaten something rare.

And even better: ‘I also spread some seed around, these patches of wilderness are sometimes tiny and always surrounded by roads, houses and other things which create barriers to plants dispersing. I can give them a hand in late summer, and now I like to see if anything has sprouted from my efforts.’

Good work, Adrian. Keep it up.

By Pamela Kelt

PS If you’re concerned about council mowing in your county, sign up to the Road Verge Campaign, headed by Alan Titchmarsh.

Record orchid count

Orchids are thriving, thanks to the dry, warm spring this year. Among the many to be found is an exceptional display of scarce orchids at a Norfolk Wildlife Trust nature reserve in south Norfolk.

This year's count of green-winged orchids at NWT New Buckenham Common was a record-breaking 2,300, the highest since 2002 and about 1,000 up on previous years.

Green winged orchids are susceptible to wet weather as it rots their root systems, and so have benefited from the recent warm spell. According to Breckland Reserves Manager, Darrell Stevens: “Green-winged orchid seeds are very fine, like dust, and so need newly-cleared areas in which to germinate. We also graze the site with cattle on this nature reserve and they keep the sward open. This is a fantastic display of orchids, which are scarce in Norfolk and nationally and the most seen on the reserve for 12 years.”

One of the most sizeable areas of common land in South Norfolk, NWT New Buckenham Common’s history can be traced back to the 12th century. Norfolk Wildlife Trust has cleared scrub on the site, a boost to this beautiful species. Worth a visit - but keep any dogs on a lead. 

PS Pure fluke, but I've been using the fascinating online etymological dictionary to research another book (Machiavelli's Acolyte, a 17th-century murder mystery), and tripped over the this quirky little fact. The Oxford English Dictionary apparently has a listing for the green-winged orchid, the old name of which was ... 'Fool's ballocks'.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Lost orchids!

If proof were needed about the allure of formerly ‘lost orchids’, pity the poor officials at the Penang Floral Festival where prized specimens have been stolen.

More than 15 prized orchids worth around £4,000 have been stolen from the Penang Floral Festival venue, including a grand prize-winning endangered species, a Paphiopedilum rothschildianum, that could only be found in Sabah.

Sabah is one of the 13 member states of Malaysia, and is its easternmost state. It is located on the northern portion of the island of Borneo and known as the second largest state in the country after Sarawak, which it borders on its southwest.
According to the press, the flowers vanished overnight when committee members arrived to set up. The orchids had been displayed at the same spot since last Sunday.

This slipper orchid has a notorious history. It was originally collected back in 1887 and brought into cultivation in Europe. The original location of where the plants were collected was apparently falsified by the plant collector Sander & Sons, who gave the location of New Guinea in order to keep rival collectors from getting hold of the plant. For the next 60 years the plant’s true location remained a mystery.

Then quite by accident a population of this beautiful slipper orchid was found at the base of Mount Kinabalu.

Stranger than fiction? Read The Lost Orchid, a Gothic-inspired adventure based on the orchid craze of the late 1800s.

By Pamela Kelt

Orchid revival

After more than a century, orchids are blooming at an historic East Dorset estate.

The National-Trust restored Victorian orchid house, which used to be an important part of the kitchen garden at Kingston Lacy, has reopened after fallen into ruin. The orchid house was part of a large complex of glass houses which had become disused.

Courtesy of a grant of £40,000 from Local Action Group Sowing Seeds, two buildings have now been repaired.

An exotic variety of orchids is on display, replicating those cultivated by the original owners.

According to the local press, staff dug deep into archives from the Bankes family to find out more about the orchid collection at Kingston Lacy.

As any orchidmaniac will know, fashionable Victorians coined the term ‘orchidelirium’ to describe their obsession with orchids.

The passion for the exotic and fragile flowers was particularly seen at Kingston Lacy, where Walter Ralph Bankes, and later Henrietta Bankes, developed their collection.

Modern-day researchers consulted specific references to the orchids in the garden diary of Walter Bankes dating from 1896. The Amateur Orchid Cultivators' Guide Book, published in 1894, is inscribed with handwritten notes by Henrietta Bankes.

The award of the grant has enabled two of the glasshouses – one of them a ‘sunken’ glass house – to be restored along with the small boiler house and cold frames, creating a new public area in the Kitchen Garden. Find out more on the Kingston Lacy website.

I wonder how many Victorian orchid houses there are out there, just waiting to be renovated?

Here’s a fascinating photo of remains of one near St Lawrence on the southern tip of the Isle of Wight. Underneath the complex are rooms housing the boiler. In the underground rooms there’s apparently a freshwater stream which the gardeners no doubt appreciated.

By Pamela Kelt

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Rare orchids mown down

A council has apologised for destroying rare bee orchids that were about to flower in West Sussex.

This happened despite the fact a special ‘do not mow’ request was sent to the council in February, and another sign put by residents concerned for the rare flower, according to local press.

A council spokesman said: “Only a small area of the verge was cut before we were made aware the area should stay as it is. We’re sorry about this and are reviewing how we identify sites that do not need cutting in the future to make sure all our workers are aware.”

At least a separate bank of wild orchids on the corner of Portway and Penlands Vale was protected with an official Notable Road Verges sign.

Sections are mown ‘to give better visibility for cars’.

If this treatment of precious wild life makes you fume, then you can sign up for the worthwhile Road Verge Campaign.

By Pamela Kelt