It was a scorcher of a Sunday, with temperatures in the high 20s, and after a two hour drive we had a thirty-minute walk up a hillside in the Glen of Aherlow, Co. Tipperary, in search of the very rare Small White Orchid. There are scarce records of sightings in north Co. Tipperary and there is a population, a very small population, on The Burren but reports of a single flower in a much closer, though remote, location demanded we make the journey.
A friend had done the detective work, sourcing reports of sightings from many, many years previously, contacting people who had already undertaken the search, some fortunate and others not, and had made contact with the landowner and gained permission to enter and search. Along with a companion he had the champagne moment – the sighting of a perfectly beautiful specimen of the Small White Orchid, Pseudorchis albida, just one plant, one flower but such a joy to behold.
He passed the details to a friend and I and we planned our outing for last Sunday, a week after the treasure had been found. We passed through farmland and onto rough hillside pasture where a scrag of grass had been tucked between a fence post and the sheep wire it supported. The orchid was two metres out from this signpost. We arrived full of hope and searched and searched and searched until my companion eventually spotted the plant but without its flower head – a (excuse me) blasted rabbit, I imagine, had taken it for lunch. What a disappointment! We will wait another year and, perhaps, travel to another location to see this little beauty of our Irish flora.
An offer from our friend to come join him and visit a site he had only been to that morning could not be resisted – it gave hope the day would not be a complete disappointment. As it turned out, the visit more than saved the day and we saw some very beautiful plants. Disappointments are to be expected in the search for unusual plants but they are, thankfully, generally outnumbered by days when we enjoy the beauties of our countryside.
The following is a selection of photographs from our second location on the day – more than making up for the disappointment of our first visit.