Thursday, 22 October 2009

Ghost Orchid back but bad timing for some!

It is good to hear on the grapevine that Ghost Orchid (Epipogium aphyllum) has been seen in flower in the UK this year. It will apparently be officially announced at the BSBI in November but its location will be kept secret, I hope for a long time.

For those who don't know, Ghost Orchid, as its latin name suggests has no leaves and also no chlorophyll. It is what used to be called a saprophyte, a plant living on decaying matter. We now know that such plants usually have a complex symbiotic/parasitic relationship with associated fungi and surrounding trees.

It has only ever been known from three or four sites in the UK and can survive for many years underground without flowering. It hadn't been seen officially for 23 years and in fact it had been declared extinct last year even though it had disappeared for similar periods earlier in the twentieth century.I was lucky enough to see the plant flowering in the Chilterns back in the nineteen seventies and eighties, (hence the poor scan from a slide) when it flowered almost annually for quite a few years. It seems the habitat has got considerably drier over the past twenty years and it was assumed that it had gone forever. However apparently not, great news!

With regards to the timing part of the title it is unfortunate (only mildly) that the announcement coincided almost exactly with the launch by Plantlife of a programme entitled:
The Ghost Orchid Declaration: Saving the UK's wild flowers today.
which they lead on the fact that Ghost Orchid had been declared extinct!! Unfortunate.

I have not read it fully yet but it seems to be an important document highlighting the problems of conserving habitat for plant and fungi species. Regardless of Ghost Orchid, many plant species are seriously threatened so lets wish them all the best.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Fly orchid information required please!

At this time of year I start looking back on the year and re-examining photos taken, none of which are ever as good as I thought they were at the time! One that caught my eye however was taken not by myself but by a friend and it is a picture of Fly Orchid (O.insectifera).

The normal Fly Orchid (above) is a magical little plant, the flower quite different from almost all other species in the Ophrys genus with petals that mean it truly lives up to its common name. We are lucky enough to have a small colony of about thirty plants of this species in Banstead although just a few miles south there are sites where in a good year you can see thousands of plants.

However the photo in question, taken at a Hampshire site, shows a plant with a flower (below) with a very obvious yellow edge to the lip, even more attractive than normal. Over the years I have seen this species at many sites in both the UK and mainland Europe and althought the lip size can vary considerably it always has been brown. Both Lang (Britain's Orchids) and the Harraps (Orchids of Britain and Ireland) mention the occurrence of this type of plant as occasional or rare respectively. So I wonder just how rare is it.I should point out that there are two similar species found in S.France and Spain O.subinsectifera and O aymoninii (below) that have lips with yellow edges but this is not they!

So, how rare is this variant in Britain, can anyone out there help, i.e. have you seen a Fly Orchid with yellow-edged flowers??

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Farming a few weeks ago!

Work and decorating means this has turned into a bimonthly blog! Not the original idea but hey ho it happens and for this posting it means Steve Gale has beaten me to it!!!

The past few weeks has seen a lot of agricultural activity on the fields south of Banstead (Canons Farm) referred to here earlier in the year. Back then after spraying, most of the fields were sown with Flax which is always promising because to my uninformed mind that means less herbicide use and hence the possibility of some arable weeds. Sure enough there were plenty but unfortunately nothing remotely unusual or unexpected and apart from Field Pansy nothing of any real beauty. The Flax duly grew but to me seemed rather less vigorous than when planted in previous years (perhaps less fertizer was used!) and was a white-flowered variety that was less attactive than the blue and never seemed to put on a decent display.

In one of the fields however some strange goings on. In a number of separate patches the crop seemed to be overcome by almost monocultures of a number of weed species. A large patch of Charlock (see below, taken in June) here and a large patch of fumitory there, and several others too, rather peculiar. It almost looked as if they had been planted, the other fields did not show this.
Yes, this is a crop of flax!
Normal service resumed however in September when the whole crop was sprayed with a herbicide to "ripen" it prior to havesting and so wiping out all the weeds as well, a desert again! The crop was duly harvested and in my simple mind I thought Flax would have a double return, seeds for oil and the stems for fibre, sure enough the "straw" was baled but a couple of days later, the bales were burnt (not by vandals but intentionally) so there I assume there is no demand for fibre. Must buy some more linen shirts!!

Now the extra interest in this crop has been mentioned by Steve, the last time it was grown on these fields two years we had massive winter flocks of finches. However there are two big differences this year compared to then: firstly two years ago the crop was harvested very late when most of it had been beaten down with rain and large amounts of seed spilled; and secondly as far as I recall the fields were left untouched through the winter before being sown with the next crop (a spring cereal), this year it has already been cultivated and I suspect will be sown very soon. As Steve says a lot of birds are already on the fields but whether the bonanza will be as big and last as long only time will tell.