She came late to education but has certainly made an impact now that she is here. Already, she has been feted in local press and on the national airwaves with a special appearance on the main evening news. We cannot begrudge her these moments in the limelight for, truth be told, she is at present the jewel in the crown. The only slight worry is that everybody will be dazzled by the sparkling jewel and forget the 22 carat crown in which she rests.
So, to explain: There are extensive areas of grass around the buildings of the Waterford Institute of Technology. The ground staff have, great credit to them, always maintained them to a high standard, carefully and regularly mown, nicely edged and weed-free. Last year, some members of the Department of Horticulture negotiated a concession that some areas of grass be left uncut and allowed to grow away naturally. It was to be an experiment to see what might pop up, so to speak.
Well, “pop up” hardly does justice to what happened for beneath the tidy sward of many years there existed a range and treasure of wildflowers which dazzled and delighted the horticulturalists with their appearance. There were the to-be-expected range – red and white clover, lesser trefoil, hawkweed, a spread of knapweed – a feast for butterflies and bees alike – and a sprinkle of others. The carpets of Selfheal are astonishingly beautiful, one of our simply gorgeous native wildflowers. The project was an outstanding success – it has shown that with a very little effort, apparently barren college grass areas can become both beautiful, educational – for the horticultural students now have the most valuable instructional asset on their doorsteps – and an environment which attracts and supports an extensive range of wildlife, bees and butterflies especially, those pollinators which we now realise are so vital to our world yet also endangered. This is the kind of project which shows the way to reverse the dreadfully worrying trends of recent decades as pollinator numbers have tumbled to worryingly low levels.
Yes, it was a great success, a brilliant success but, you know, not too many people were listening. But, then, along came the bee, this darling academic bee; more specifically a bee orchid, Ophrys apifera, the darling of the Irish orchids, a little treasure which everybody who sees it loves and oooohs and aaaaaws over as though it were a newborn baby. Suddenly, everybody was listening: along came the local press, followed quickly by the cavalry of the national television station’s news department. The bee had brought the attention that this project deserved and we will be gracious and allow it enjoy its moment in the limelight for it has served the project well.
The story doesn’t quite end there. When the orchid was shown on the national airwaves, it caught the eyes of orchid enthusiasts for it was not quite the usual run of bee orchids but seemed to be a variation not, to the best of my knowledge, previously recorded in Ireland – Ophrys apifera var fulvofusca which lacks the usual markings on the lip and is instead a chocolate brown. The botanists will mull over it for a while before passing judgement on its definitive identification but it has performed well and has been a fitting jewel in the crown of the new meadow areas at the W.I.T.
I visited today but Miss Bee had the appearance of a recently qualified student after celebrating good results and was not at her best so my photographs don’t do her justice. Fortunately, she was well photographed when in her prime, the yearbook photograph so to speak, and Cara Daly has supplied an excellent shot of the diva so you will appreciate her beauty fully.
Congratulations and thanks to all involved – and I can only mention those I know and apologise to any I omit: Seán Keane, a horticultural student at the W.I.T., Cara Daly and Yvonne Grace who both lecture in the department. Next year will be even better in the meadows and numbers of this orchid may well increase as it has set seed very generously.