A Welcome Wasp!  

Native orchids have captured  my heart – and addled  my brain – and days out have been full of fabulous finds, good company, beautiful plants and one outstanding highlight.

Co. Tipperary has featured very strongly in this year’s itineraries as a friend with local knowledge has brought us to some very special sites and plants. In late April we visited an area with Green Veined Orchid, an uncommon native orchid and a very pretty one. We went, on the same day, to a wood where Bird’s Nest Orchid was simply magical.

Anacamptis morio Green Veined Orchid (33)
Green Veined Orchid, Anacamptis morio
Neottia niduavia (40)
Bird’s Nest Orchid, Neottia nidus-avis

An early visit to The Burren lead to innumerable Early Purple Orchids, spectacular Western Marsh Orchids on a busy roadside and the almost impossible to see Fly Orchid.

Orchis mascula Early Purple Orchid (24)
Early Purple Orchid,  Orchis mascula
Dactylorhiza occidentalis Western Marsh Orchid (6)
Western Marsh Orchid, Dactylorhiza occidentalis
Ophrys insectifera Fly Orchid (20)
Fly Orchid, Ophrys insectifera

The Bee Orchid is a delight to everybody who sees it with its smiling face and unusual and attractive colouring and, of course, the ingenious design of the flower which mimics a bee so well that bees flock to assist with pollination. There is a much rarer white (some say, yellow) form which flowered in abundance on one roadside verge this year and more than bees were attracted by its beauty.

Ophrys apifera Bee Orchid (29)
Bee Orchid, Ophrys apifera
Ophrys apifera Bee Orchid (5)
Bee Orchid, Ophrys apifera
Ophrys apifera var.  chlorantha  (7).jpg
White Bee Orchid, Ophrys apifera var. chlorantha

An outing to a bog brought us to two exceptionally beautiful orchids, The Marsh Helleborine and the Lesser Butterfly orchids. This was a special day, one of several this year, and the Marsh Helleborine, it was agreed, was one of the most beautiful flowers one could enjoy. The enjoyment was added to by the presence of innumerable Common Spotted and Heath Spotted Orchids while a short spin in the car afterwards brought us to a huge population of Pyramidal Orchid and Common Twayblade.

Marsh Helleborine,  Epipactis palustris
Marsh Helleborine,  Epipactis palustris
Lesser Butterfly Orchid, Platanthera bifolia
Lesser Butterfly Orchid, Platanthera bifolia

The more regularly seen Common Spotted Orchid, Heath Spotted Orchid, Pyramidal Orchid and Common Twayblade remain beautiful and charming each time they are seen but one becomes drawn to the rare, the unusual and novel. The next new one is always more interesting than the previously admired and beloved.

Common Spotted Orchid, Dactylorhiza fuchsii
Dactylorhiza maculata Heath Spotted Orchid Na Circíní (27)
Heath Spotted Orchid, Dactylorhiza maculata
Anacamptis pyramidalis Pyramidal Orchid (19)
Pyramidal Orchid, Anacamptis pyramidalis, with a Six-Spotted Burnet Moth
Neottida ovata Common Twayblade Dédhuilleog (2)
Common Twayblade, Neottida ovata 

A recent visit to sand dunes in Co. Wexford brought two exceptional finds. My companion on these outings – I refer to him as “Hawkeye” for his skill at spotting those uncommon plants which make a day out special – came on a white form of the Pyramidal Orchid, a beautiful thing which made our day.

Anacamptis pyramidalis Pyramidal Orchid White form (3)
A rare white form of the Pyramidal Orchid, Anacamptis pyramidalis,

Shortly afterwards I came on a Bee Orchid with what I thought was an odd shape and colour but, because of my inexperience and lack of knowledge and that it resembled something quite rare, I was reluctant to put a name to it. However, I was writing to Brendan Sayers at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, on another matter and attached a photograph for his attention. Brendan is the author of “Ireland’s Wild Orchids – A Field Guide”. Brendan replied, wondered if I had found a Wasp Orchid, Ophrys apifera var. trollii, and asked for more photographs for clarification. Photographs have since been sent to other experts and the identification has been confirmed – the narrow tip on the lip of the orchid is a distinguishing feature.

Ophrys apifera Bee Orchid wiith pale markings (7)
The Wasp Orchid, Ophrys apifera var. trollii
Ophrys apifera Bee Orchid wiith pale markings (2)
The Wasp Orchid, Ophrys apifera var. trollii
Ophrys apifera Bee Orchid wiith pale markings (4)
The Wasp Orchid, Ophrys apifera var. trollii
Ophrys apifera Bee Orchid wiith pale markings (9)
The Wasp Orchid, Ophrys apifera var. trollii. The narrow tip to the lip, labellum, is a distinguishing feature and this is the first time it has been recorded in Ireland. 

Just another orchid? It seems that this is the first time this orchid has been found in Ireland, a new record and a cause of excitement for orchid enthusiasts some of whom will travel over the weekend in hopes of seeing it in flower. Of course, I’m chuffed to have found it and it certainly is my highlight of the year.

Paddy Tobin

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook




The Fools’ Outing

There is available to us all the most wonderful nature reserve and wildflower preservation area and these are on the verges of our national road network. Many of these roads have wide verge and some have wonderfully steep banks. These latter are especially excellent as their slope makes grass cutting too awkward  and wildflowers are allowed to grow naturally. These areas are, in fact, the closest we have in most areas of the country to the natural meadows of days now long gone. Of course, they do lack grazers and cannot be maintained in the traditional manner of old meadows  – though we still see the occasional horse grazing the long acre!

Roadside - site of Ophrys apifera Bee Orhid (1)
Roadside verges and banks can be rich in wildflowers

Roadside - site of Ophrys apifera Bee Orhid (4)

Many local authorities – perhaps, being clever and adopting a present gardening fashion for wildflower meadows – have stopped cutting the grass on these verges. This certainly must save them a great deal of time and money and clearly fulfills their brief of caring for wildlife, wildflowers etc. I do hope it becomes a widespread practice to leave the verges to nature. I can understand the need to prevent the growth on the verges tumbling on to the roadway and see the sense in maintaining a narrow strip immediately to the side of the road but leaving the remainder to its own devices.

These roadside verges can be home to some of our most scarce and most elusive wildflowers. A few weeks back the telephone and Facebook Messenger was busy with reports of a population of an especially interesting and rare variety of the fabulous Bee Orchid. It began with the information that it had been spotted on a roadside in Co. Tipperary some years back. I mentioned this to an enthusiast who lived in the general area and he began his search and it wasn’t long before he found a plant, and another, and another until he realised he had found a significant population. The word went out and we were off! The Fools’ Outing! Four senior and one junior member – it is such a joy to see a junior member, the future lifeblood of any group!

Ophrys apifera var. chlorantha (25)
Ophrys apifera var. chlorantha – a pale form of the Bee Orchid

Ophrys apifera var. chlorantha (18)

Ophrys apifera var. chlorantha (26)

Sat. nav. coordinates make arriving at an exact location such a doddle these days and we pulled into the road verge within steps of our quarry. I am old, retired, and at times think I am very silly and foolish to be so delighted by the sight of a pretty little flower but I also consider myself very fortunate that such a little thing can make me so very happy. It is a childish feeling, the joy of discovery and the marvelling at the beauty of nature and I hope it remains with me forever. I noted that the other Fools were just as happy and delighted as I was so I was in good company!

Our friend had brought us to a population of Ophrys apifera variety chlorantha – a pale variety of the Bee Orchid. The Bee Orchid delights everybody who sees it – a flower that has developed to resemble a bee so as to attract the bees to come and pollinate it. Such a clever ingenious development, truly amazing! The more common Bee Orchid is quite strongly marked while this variety is much more pale. Sand dunes seems to be an especially good location to see Bee Orchids and steep road verges with good drainage and less than lush grass growth seem to offer the conditions they require also.

Ophrys apifera (6)
This is the Bee Orchid, Aphrys apifera, a wonderfully designed and coloured flower

Ophrys apifera (9)

Ophrys apifera (8)
The daisies give a good indication of the size of the Bee orchid – quite a small thing and it can be difficult to spot but after spotting one your eye seems to easily find another and another.

We ooooed and aaaaaaawwwed these pale Bee Orchids for a considerable time and took photographs of each and every one of them from every possible angle so that we could revisit the occasion later on our laptop screens. Passers-by must have wondered what we were up to – people lying on the grassy verge pointing cameras, seemingly, at the ground.

We explored further along this stretch of road and found a good population of the usual Bee Orchid as well as small numbers of Western Marsh Orchid, Common Spotted and Pyramidal Orchid as well as the uncommon broomrapes. We have had reports – from our intrepid explorer of this area – of a very healthy and numerous population of the Pyramidal Orchid not too far away on the road.

Here are a number of our other finds along this roadside:

Anacamptis pyramidalis Pyramidal orchid (2)
Pyramidal orchid, Anacamptis pyramidalis 
Dactylorhiza fuchsii Common Spotted Orchid (34)
Common Spotted Orchis, Dactylorhiza fuchsii
Dactylorhiza fuchsii Common Spotted Orchid White (2)
A nearly pure white variant of the Common Spotted orchid
Neottia ovata Common Twayblade (10)
Common Twayblade – Neottia ovata
Neottia ovata Common Twayblade (13)
Common Twayblade – Neottia ovata 
Dactylorhiza occidentalis Western Marsh Orchid (2)
Western Marsh Orchid – Dactylorhiza occidentalis. This is a species which grows only in Ireland. Note: We did wonder about the identification of this orchid when we were at the site and I have received a comment that it might be of mixed blood – something common among the Dactylorhizas. It would appear it has some Common Spotted Orchid blood in it.

These road verges are treasure troves of wildflowers and provide some of the last remaining areas of undisturbed land where they may flourish. I don’t imagine it would be a great challenge for local authorities or the national road authority to maintain these verges in a manner necessary for road safety yet suitable for these wonderful wildflowers.

Oooh, “Fools”?  The Fellowship of Old Orchid Lovers!  We may as well laugh at ourselves as we enjoy life!

Paddy Tobin


Post Scriptum: By coincidence, I read this article from the Irish News of a great success in Northern   Ireland.

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook



A Special Garden, Very special!

There are a few gardens you walk into and feel all is perfectly comfortable. Is that an old age description, I wonder? However, I’m sure you know what I mean – not a matter of comfortable armchairs and slippers – but that feeling in a garden when everything fits together in an apparent effortless manner, the perfect fit.

I recall the first occasion we walked into Beth Chatto’s garden and feeling it so very clearly – this was a garden perfectly in tune with its location and setting. There was no artifice, no pretence, nothing gaudy nor vulgar, no gimmicks. Instead, a garden of good, simple design filled with well-chosen plants and a blend of house and garden which felt as though they had both been together for many years.

Mildred Stoke’s garden at Killurney, near Kilsheelin, Co. Tipperary is another example of such a garden. We have visited many times, have always enjoyed the occasion, and have done so again today.

I’m not going to waffle on – have a look at my photos from today and you will understand.

Mildred Stoke's Garden (1)

Mildred Stoke's Garden (49)

Mildred Stoke's Garden (37)

Mildred Stoke's Garden (39)

Mildred Stoke's Garden (12)

And an album of views within the garden…

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Paddy Tobin

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Orchid Spotter on Board!

Orchid spotters are well – though not widely – known as a grave danger on our roads. That ubiquitous “Baby of Board” seen on the back of many cars is really quite ineffective and were it to be replaced by “Orchid Spotter on Board” our roads would be far safer. We see the “Baby of Board” notice and, though it may be an appeal for us to drive carefully for the sake of that car’s young passenger, it doesn’t quite catch other drivers’ attention for, after all, a child on board poses little or no threat to other road users. On the other hand, “Orchid Spotter on Board” suggests that an obsessive nutcase is driving – or, at least, distracting the driver – and that sudden, unexpected, erratic, even dangerous, manoeuvres are quite likely.

Dactylorhiza occidentalis Western Marsh Orchid (1)
Such temptation to the Orchid Spotter – a beautiful clump of Western Marsh Orchid on a  roadside verge

Let me explain, for I have recently gained admission to that group – Orchid Spotters Unleashed. When we travel together during orchid season, May and June of each year, my wife now insists on driving with the kind suggestion that she is so doing that I might be free to scan the roadside verges. We both know that she does this for safety reasons but after nearly forty years of marriage we can both live comfortably with the pretence of kindness – it is less contentious. The sight of an orchid on the road verge – that deliciously rich purple of the Western Marsh Orchid, for example, – can not only take the orchid spotter’s eye off the road but can also, for obvious reasons, take the car off the road also so it really is best if the orchid spotter is not the one holding the steering wheel. Do notice that I didn’t say such person was “in control” of the steering wheel; holding the wheel while scanning the verges is not quite conducive to road safety.

Dactylorhiza occidentalis Western Marsh Orchid (9)
Western Marsh Orchid – who wouldn’t stop for these!

Dactylorhiza occidentalis Western Marsh Orchid (5)

Even with the safety driver in place an outburst of “Look, Western Marsh, pull over” can be a challenge to the most careful of drivers especially when it comes on a narrow winding road with no hard shoulder south of Ennistymon or that clump on the bend outside Pallasgreen. The orchid spotter was anxious to investigate and photograph while the driver was concerned with lesser matters, such as the preservation of life and limb.

I am not the only such Orchid Spotter. A friend sent on a photograph today of a beautiful form of the Bee Orchid – quite uncommon in its usual form but a divine rarity in the pale form he found today – spotted as he drove along the road and he felt “compelled” to swing the car around to have a closer look. He, the car and the orchid survived though I do recommend he bring his safety driver along in future though, thinking of it now, it may be the case – as he is a fully fledged Orchid Spotter, not just a novice as I am – that, perhaps, his safety driver has simply had too many scares, has a strong desire to live a quieter and less dangerous life and is no longer willing to endure the stresses and strains of the position. Good and devoted safety drivers are hard to come by.

bee orchid
I won’t identify my friend but you can see why he might be distracted. Ophrys apifera var. chlorantha

A friend travelling in France at present posted some photographs today of a similar roadside stop to view the roadside orchids. Pyramidal Orchids on the roadside were her distraction but, thankfully, the attraction was navigated and enjoyed safely. However, it does show that this is an international phenomenon and there may be need to translate my suggested “Orchid Spotter on Board”.

pyramidal orchid alice munsey on facebook
The distractions on a French roadside! A magnet to the Orchid Spotter!

Do drive carefully and be aware of this special group of people on our roads at the moment!

Paddy Tobin

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook