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.

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