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

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