Our native orchids are among the most beautiful, interesting and appealing of our wildflowers and I have had three very enjoyable outings to see them recently.
The Lesser Twayblade had frustrated me for several years. I knew from friends that there was a small population in a remote area in Co. Wicklow – I had the directions but it is quite a journey and I had put it on the long finger. There was a report of some in the Comeragh Mountains, only a thirty minute drive away, but I had searched without success – finding one of Ireland’s smaller orchids growing under heather is very challenging and hard on the back. In Britain’s Orchids is it described as “one of the most difficult species to spot, due to its size, colour and tendency to be hidden among vegetation.“ I had come to the conclusion that my best bet of seeing the Lesser Twayblade was to travel to the Glengarriff Woods Nature Reserve in west cork, almost a three-hour drive away, and that was the plan until I was alerted to a site here in Co. Waterford, less than an hour’s drive away, a far more agreeable distance altogether.
The flowers are tiny, the plants less than 10cm high and the leaves about the size of a thumbnail.
Two very kind guides brought me very quickly to the plants and I was very grateful for this for a return visit a week later on my own showed me how very easy it is to become disorientated when well into a forestry plantation of evergreen trees, all in a perfect grid and featureless.
The next outing was to a private property in Co. Kilkenny and I was so envious of the owner, who loves the orchids and other unusual wildflowers growing right beside her house, for there were seven different orchids within an area hardly 100 x 50metres – an absolute treasure trove. I must make another dash before the season passes as such a is to be treasured and enjoyed.
Pyramidal Orchids – Anacamptis pyramidalis
Common Spotted Orchids – Dactylorhiza fuchsii
One of the Early Marsh Orchids – Dactylorhiza incarnata subsp coccinea
One of the Early Marsh Orchids – Dactylorhiza incarnata subsp incarnata
Common Twayblade – Neottia ovata
Chalk Fragrant Orchids – Gymnadenia conopsea
As can be expected when the Dactylorhizas are growing together there are sometimes hybrids and this is Dactylorhiza x kernerorum. Dactylorhiza fuchsii x Dactylorhiza incarnata
Finally, a run to see a single plant, a striking colour variation on the Common Spotted Orchid, Dactylorhiza fuchsii. A drive of an hour and a half to see selection one orchid might seem excessive (“obsessive” is what the Head Gardener says!) but it is a form which is seen so very rarely here in Ireland that it was worth the effort. The colour of the flower on Common Spotted Orchids is quite variable, ranging from pure white, through light pink with ever so gentle markings, to deeper pink and stronger markings in purple and, occasionally, the anthocyanin pigments dominate completely to give flowers which are completely or almost completely a rich maroon/purple, described as hyperchromatic.
A hyperchromatic form of the Common Spotted Orchid, Dactylorhiza fuchsii f. Rhodochila
Although this is a very rare form, it is not the first time it has been found and a painting of a hyperchromatic example of the Common Spotted Orchid by botanic artist Susan Sex was used as the frontpiece in the 2005 publication Ireland’s Wild Orchids, privately published by Susan Sex and Brendan Sayers.
Although this rarity alone made the journey worthwhile there was a very nice selection of other orchids at this site also which made the journey all the more worthwhile:
A selection of Common Spotted Orchids, Dactylorhiza fuchsii, showing the variation in colour and markings on the flowers.
Chalk Fragrant Orchids, Gymnadenia conopsea
Common Twayblade, Neottia ovata
Bee Orchid – Ophrys apifera
Lesser Butterfly Orchid – Platanthera bifolia
Until the next outing!