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.

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

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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

 

 

A Most Peculiar Plant – or is it a plant at all?

There are some plants which when we encounter them in gardens we kindly describe as “interesting”. This immediately dispels any thoughts that they might be considered pretty or beautiful but yet we have to admit that there is something about them which is intriguing, beguiling and even wonderful. It must be the case or why otherwise would we give them garden space?

Today I had an encounter with such a plant in the wild and it was a wonderful, fascinating and completely endearing encounter. The Bird’s Nest Orchid (Neottia nidusavis)  is one of our more rare orchids so it was a huge thrill to have been directed today to a large colony.

Neottia nidus-avis Bird's Nest Orchid (29)
With no leaves, the bird’s nest orchid is incapable of producing chlorophyll
Neottia nidus-avis Bird's Nest Orchid (32)
The flowering stems emerge from the underground plant

 

Brendan Sayers, in his “Ireland’s Wild Orchids – A Field Guide” describes it thus: “The bird’s nest orchid is the only Irish orchid which does not possess chlorophyll and therefore has not green parts. The plant relies for all of its life on an association with a microscopic fungus which feeds the plant.” With no leaves, it is a strange-looking thing indeed and we might well wonder if it is a plant at all but rather more fungus. Underground fungus have an association with nearby trees – in today’s case it was an oak – which supply it with sugars while using the fungus to supply minerals. The bird’s nest orchid’s life is, in the main, underground where it also benefits from an association with this same fungus. What we see above ground is simply the flowering spike while the body of the plant is below – and, apparently, the roots are in the shape of a bird’s nest, hence the name! I haven’t been digging other than in books to find this nugget of information.

Neottia nidus-avis Bird's Nest Orchid (66)
The flowers develop

Neottia nidus-avis Bird's Nest Orchid (13)

Given the plant’s very particular needs and dependence on other organisms for life it is no surprise that it is uncommon. When it is found it is always in woodland – well, the trees are essential! – and I was in such a location we encountered it today. There is a different response to seeing a very beautiful plant and to seeing one such as the bird’s nest orchid. Our reaction to beauty is simple, well rehearsed and well practiced while our reaction to the bird’s nest orchid is one of wonder, puzzlement, amazement, fascination and, indeed, admiration.

Neottia nidus-avis Bird's Nest Orchid (66)
It was wonderful to see such large clumps
Neottia nidus-avis Bird's Nest Orchid (57)
The flower spikes of the previous year have persisted while the new shoots are emerging. The old flower spikes can persist for two or more years, it seems.

The ways of plants and the natural world will, no doubt, continue to surprise and delight us and today was one of those special days of delight and wonder.

Mark Roper
These treasures of our countryside do deserve close examination and my companion today was very attentive!

Paddy Tobin

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