13 May 2016

Orchid ‘first’ for Garden

Bruce Langridge

I’ve been working in the Garden for many years and I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to notice the spread of wild orchids across the site.

When I first arrived here in 2003, there was a small patch of greater butterfly orchid Plantanthera chlorantha in Trawscoed Meadow, a small patch of heath spotted-orchids Dactylorhiza maculata in a wet pasture and a few common spotted Dactylorhiza fuchsii and southern marsh orchids Dactylorhiza praetermissa here and there. Since then, I’ve seen butterfly orchids appear in their hundreds in our traditionally managed hay meadows, over 100 heath-spotted orchids were counted last year, seen broad-leaved helleborine Epipactis helleborine in the flower beds of Boulder Garden and one of our gardeners, Piers Lunt, found our first bee orchid Ophrys apifera two years ago, on the lower slope of the Wild Garden.

A mystery

In my bones, I just knew we’d have an early-purple orchids Orchis mascula somewhere in the Garden but where were they? Witches reputedly used to make love potions from its roots but the only witch I know didn’t know where to find them. I knew a lot of botanists but none had ever seen one here, or heard about any being seen.

But last week, we finally tracked them down. More precisely, two of our wildlife recording volunteers, Colin and Hazel Miles, did. They found three large flower spikes tucked in amongst some lovely hellebores on the lakeside path of Llyn Uchaf, the second of our three restored lakes. They told our BSBI county recorder Richard Pryce, and when Richard came over to confirm the identification, he found another orchid spike nearby.

Come and have a look

If you’d like to see our wild orchids, you have a choice to make. The early-purple orchids will only be in flower for another week or so. At the start of June, our spotted orchids should start to flower on Waun Las National Nature Reserve but the butterfly orchids don’t flower until the end of June, often when the others have gone over while the broad-leaved helleborine flowers even later. And we also have a few wild orchid species set to flower in our Conserving Welsh Plants display.

Now, if you were a Garden member, you could come here whenever you wanted . . .