12 Jun 2019

Orchids popping up in new places

Bruce Langridge

I remember being really excited to see the greater butterfly orchid when I first moved down to Wales to work here in the National Botanic Garden of Wales in 2003. Despite having being a professional field botanist and wildflower enthusiast for decades, I’d never seen a butterfly orchid. They just didn’t grow  where I was living and working in the industrial north of England.

Sixteen years later I’m still getting excited. Last Friday i found them growing in Cae Derwen  for the first time. Two years ago, this was a cattle grazed pasture dominated by big bulky grasses like meadow foxtail, cock’s-foot, Yorkshire fog and rye grass.  But in August 2016, following simple instructions provided by Plantlife, we introduced  a green hay crop from two of our species-rich hay meadows

In just the third year of new growth, this is a spectacular transformation.

Not only did myself, Science Officer Kevin McGinn and ecologist Rob Parry find a few butterfly orchids but we also found spotted orchids too, and a sea of buttercups, yellow rattle and eyebright.

All this has arrived in time by a visit by the 49 Club, retired nature conservation professionals from across the UK, 70 of whom are visiting the Garden this week.  In time too for our annual Wales Wildflower Weekend on June 22 and 23rd.

Orchids are the big theme of this celebration of wildflowers. I’m really pleased that renowned orchid author Sue Parker will be giving a couple of indoor talks on Welsh orchids and joining me for a guided walk to look at the hay meadow where the green hay crop came from.  Sue understands about hybridising orchids which is handy as we have lots of them.  If you google search ‘Wild Orchids’, Sue and her partner Pat’s First Nature website will come up on the first page –  go on, have a go.

I’m really hoping our bee orchids will still be in flower.

They first appeared at the foot of the Wild Garden 3 years ago but then disappeared. But beady-eyed members of our volunteer conservation group spotted them again last week, now in two different locations.

And what’s that in our Kenfig Burrows wildflower display bed?  Blimey, it’s a pyramid orchid, the first time it’s flowered there. It must have come in the sods of earth we were given by Kenfig warden Dave Carrington three years ago. Why has it taken this long to flower?

I’m also hoping the patch of 30+ heath-spotted orchids in Cae Brywn will still be in flower. Dr Michael Isaac will be leading a walk there on the Sunday of the Wildflower Weekend, before leading walkers into Cae Tegeirian, a hay meadow at the top of the hill whose name in English translates as…….. Orchid Meadow.

If this isn’t enough, amongst the wildflower themed stalls and displays in the Great Glasshouse, we’ll be displaying orchid books from our herbarium as well as orchids from our Melville Herbarium, dried plants collected from the wild in the late 19th century. Expect surprises.

And finally, anyone who came on my recent Japan-themed guided walk would have seen the first fresh blooms on the Japanese ground orchid in the Double Walled Garden. Its rich magenta colour is, I  think, my favourite of all colours.