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
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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

 

 

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”.

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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

Orchids – A New Enthusiasm!

Although widespread, orchids are not commonplace and to look at them growing in the wild is one of the great pleasures of the plant world. The Burren in Co. Clare, Bull Island in Dublin and The Raven in Wexford are three easily accessible locations where one may find orchids with ease and there are many other lesser-known spots throughout the country where they can be enjoyed.

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A group of Common Spotted Orchid – Dactylorhiza fuchsii near Cahir, Co. Tipperary
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Pyramidal Orchids, Anacamptis pyramidalis, which were growing company of the Common Spotted Orchids above.

A friend brought me to a population of the Bee Orchid on the sand dunes in Tramore earlier this summer and also to a location in the Comeragh Mountains where Marsh Orchids grew in profusion. Without him I would not have known of these locations and it was a great thrill to see them, a true delight. On a more domestic front, good chance and kind friends expanded the selection of orchids we have growing in the garden and it is wonderful to be able to look at the amazing structures of the flowers and intricate detail of the colours and patterns.

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The fabulously beautiful and interesting Bee Orchid, Ophrys apifera, photographed on the sand dunes at Tramore, Co. Waterford 

 

So, while still very much a novice, I have become enthralled by orchids, our natives and those hardy enough to be grown in the open garden. I must confess that I find many of the tropical orchids just a little too gaudy for my tastes but one is never too old to develop a new interest but I hope my days will pass without my feeling any such inclination.

On several of my outings this year I was very fortunate to be in the company of a friend who was familiar with the populations of the sites we visited so he was good enough to point out the distinguishing features of each orchid we encountered. I have found this a very good way to begin to learn about new plants as it gives you a base number which you can confidently identify and when you next encounter an orchid your immediate question is whether it is one you already know or a new discovery for you. In this way you widen your selection gradually and confidence grows.

Three orchids from the Comeragh Mountains, Co. Waterford. 

My reference book has been Ireland’s Wild Orchids – A Field Guide by Brendan Sayers and Susan Sex which lists and describes, I think, thirty five orchids we might find here in Ireland. This suits me perfectly as it is not too large a number and does not present too wide a selection to the beginner when attempting to identify the latest find. Of course, orchids do not always oblige by remaining true to form and some are inclined to interbreed and present the newcomer with a confusion of features but a new interest and a new enthusiasm propels one onwards.

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Bloomsbury have recently published a new Pocket Guide to the Orchids of Britain and Ireland written by Simon Harrap, a man experienced in such guides as he has previously written Orchids of Britain and Ireland: A Field and Site Guide (2005 and 2009), Harrap’s Wild Flowers (2013), the RSPB Pocket Guide to British Birds (2007 and 2012) and Where to Watch Birds in Britain and Ireland (2003 and 2010) so I reckoned his new book was a good bet to extend my study of native orchids and I was not wrong.

This guide describes the fifty two species found in Ireland and Britain with excellent notes and guidelines to help with identification, along with notes on habitat, biology and conservation. In fact, the text is of such a standard that it raises this book well beyond that of being purely a field guide that one might use simply for identification. The descriptions are detailed and extensive and the over two hundred photographs illustrating the orchids are of an excellent standard though I have enjoyed the detail of the illustrations produced by Susan Sex in Ireland’s Wild Orchids and would have welcomed some photographs which gave more detail – a very minor quibble given the excellence of the photographs and the quality of the text.

This book will certainly satisfy my present interest in our native orchids and will, I believe, serve me well for many years to come. The flowering season is coming to an end but, with winter reading, I will be well prepared for next year!

[A Pocket Guide to the Orchids of Britain and Ireland, Simon Harrap, Bloomsbury Natural History, 2016, Paperback, 255 pages, £14.99, ISBN: 978-1-4729-2485-8]

Paddy Tobin

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