Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Have a hell of a time! Helleborines to round off a busy summer

After much activity visiting our grasslands in searing heat and recording bumper numbers of  mid summer orchids the season begins to wind down to the gentle pursuit of helleborines in shady woodland rides.

Bedfordshire has recent records of three Epipactis helleborines to look out for and one other that used to occur relatively recently.


Marsh Helleborine.  Photo Richard Revells

Chris`s flora of the county records Marsh Helleborine as having been long considered extinct in the county but appeared in a wet flush in the sunken path on Bison Hill, Whipsnade in 1966 and was seen for about 6 years.
 It would be worth looking here again but also in the wet areas of our chalk or limestone quarries. I fancy Sundon and Houghton Regis chalk pits as likely locations..but any regularly wet flushed area, however small on chalky soils could hold this species.

The Violet Helleborine is just coming out with a record already received for Kings Wood, Houghton Conquest. Keep an eye out for this attractive plant in the Studham/Whipsnade area. Even a trip to the Zoo could reveal the purple tinged stems beneath trees on the top of the chalk scarp! look out for elephants though.
 But be prepared to see this plant in even small woods anywhere in the county. It can tolerate deep shade.
Here are two of Richard Revels` photos of Violet Helleborine.

Violet Helleborine..violet tinged stems and leaves. Lower leaves longer than wide.

Violet Helleborine

The Broad-leaved Helleborine is more likely to be encountered and  the most recent records are from woodlands on the Greensand ridge, north of the ridge and in the north west of the county. It does also occur in the south and could be found in almost any woodland or even on grassland that may have been recently scrubby, with colonies needing recording at Fancott wood and Felmersham nature reserves. Look for it at ride and path edges

Broad-leaved Helleborine. Photo Richard Revels. Note broad leaves  usually spirally arranged on stem rather than two rows opposite each other. Lower leaves as broad as is wide.

Broad-leaved Helleborine. Photo Richard Revells. Flowers may vary in colour with some almost wine red others green.

The Green-flowered Helleborine is a rare orchid in Bedfordshire but nevertheless worth looking out for.
 We have records submitted  already for the Barton cutting on the A6 in traditional areas, but the new woodland associated with the cutting may hold this species as it has some reputation of appearing in new locations and any woodland should be looked at in the Barton to Pegsdon area.

  The "Barton Caves" area on Old Road Barton being one old location.

 Grren-flowered Helleborine. Photo Richard Revels. Was also known as Pendulous- flowered Helleborine the flowers dangling on large pods. The flowers are frequently not as open as this and are self -pollinated.

Green-flowered Helleborine. Photo Richard Revels. Ovaries hairless

Green-flowered Helleborine with irregular clumps of cilia along leaf margin compared with an even fringe in other Helleborines.

A hand lens is useful here!

Good luck with your searches and i look forward to your records.


Sunday, 14 July 2013

Surprize Lizard....

Just when the mid summer flowering orchids are tailing off we have a Lizard Orchid.
Chris`s Flora records the last known sighting as 1953 in the Harlington/Sundon area.

While clearing an allotment some years ago the allotment holder noticed some unusual leaves. The clod of earth with the leaves were potted up to see what they were and taken home..the years passed...until this year when a flower spike emerged.

This splendid Orchid came from the Stotfold area and is in flower now. It is just possible that there may be overlooked plants in the area. If anyone fancies a walk of footpaths, grassy waste areas, road verges and chalky areas..perhaps the Blue could be rewarded with a lizard!..and instant fame.
If you like the smell of Billy Goat then you will like this  orchid! It can be very strong!
Good hunting!

Friday, 12 July 2013

Pyramid peak

Thank you everyone who have been out to fill in the Common Spotted Orchid gaps, we now have over 1100 Adnoto records for all Orchids in Bedfordshire.

Some unusual forms of Common Spotted have been discovered including this hybrid with Fragrant Orchid taken by Geraldine and Richard Hogg at Barton hills.

CSO/Fragrant hybrid
Alex Laurie also found the scarce Common Spotted variant rhodochila again at Barton hills.

Some plants of Common Spotted do very well and become robust, tall and have multiple flowering stems. Below is the "Beast" of Duck End  with over a dozen spikes.

Large CSO

Pyramidal Orchids are currently at their peak of flowering and some impressive colonies have been reported, some in their thousands with Sharpenhoe appearing to have more than its fair share!


Pyramids have done well on the chalk where previously cultivated land has been put back to grassland and large colonies have established themselves within 20 years. There will still be colonies to record of both Common spotted and Pyramid so please keep an eye out.

Bee orchid can also build up impressive numbers on land only recently used for agriculture and they can colonise amenity land as well as farmland, Churchyards and burial grounds where they can be mown in the name of tidyness when just at their peak.
 As the County flower of Bedfordshire they deserve better!

Magnificent Bees in  grassland adjacent to burial ground..sadly mown soon afterwards.

Frog and Musk Orchid are out in flower now so do keep a look out for these hard to find species.

Musk may be found in the Totternhoe area on previosly worked quarry land that has been colonised by chalk grassland, other quarries and chalky roadsides would be worth visits in the Sundon and Sharpenhoe area where there used to be colonies of this species.
Look out for the honey scented golden spikes only two to four inches high in the grassland..but watch where you put your feet..mine are much better at finding them than my eyes!

Musk Orchid clump.

Frogs are quite hard to spot as well and as they are usually small, green, occur on short grassland often close to paths are also vulnerable to being trampled.

We are fortunate in having several colonies on the western chalk but they are easily overlooked so if you visit  Dunstable to Whipsnade Downs or the Zoo please keep an eye out and record any that are found.

 Any record of pollinators of orchids or the swelling of pods indicating that pollination has been successful will be welcome.
Bees do well and have self pollination if not pollinated by an insect. Common Spotted and Twayblade have good seed production with many swollen seed pods but our scarcer species like Man and Burnt Orchid are showing low numbers of developing seed pods. Others may develop seed pods but are either trampled or eaten before seed is would be interesting to know how our species are doing.

As the summer flowering orchids start to come to a close we can anticipate the late summer flowering of the Helleborines.

Good luck!