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Orchids in the garden

Posted by Caroline - Wildlife Garden manager on Jul 12, 2013 4:24:52 PM

As our bee orchids and common spotted-orchids in the Wildlife Garden begin to fade, the summer lady’s-tresses come into bloom and, later-still, come the helleborines. Bee orchids (Ophrys apifera) flowered for the first time in our Wildlife Garden on 17 June. These below were kindly found for us by the Bill Temple, Conservation Officer for the Hardy Orchid Society.



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Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera var. Belgarum) in the Wildlife Garden chalk grassland area.
© Jonathan Jackson


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Bill's close up of a bee orchid (Ophrys apifera var. Belgarum)
© Bill Temple (note the difference between this variety and the true form of bee orchid a few photos below)


We hope our bee orchids remain with us and perform as well as our common spotted-orchids (Dactylorhiza fuschii) have done over the years. These were planted ten years ago with help from staff at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew (the plants were raised in their micro propagation unit). Later, additional common spotted-orchids were planted in our meadow and woodland glade - donated by one of our photographers who had them growing in his lawn in Sussex.


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Common spotted-orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) in our chalk grassland habitat.
© Derek Adams


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Common spotted-orchids are multiplying in our meadow.
© Jonathan Jackson


We also had a surprise broad-leaved helleborine Epipactis helleborine appear under our young beech trees 3 years ago and although still solitary, it flowers each year. We don’t know how it arrived.


Bill Temple tells us about orchids likely to appear in gardens and shares his wonderful photographs:


“A number of orchids regularly appear in gardens, some come as seed with plants purchased from nurseries and other seed blows in on the wind. Orchid seed contains no food reserves so it will only germinate if it lands in an area containing a particular fungus. In the South of England, bee orchids are a common one to appear in lawns.

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Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera).
© Bill Temple


Bee orchids are particularly well adapted to growing in lawns - they have a rosette of leaves at the base of the plant which means that thosee leaves are undamaged by regular mowing unless the cutter blades are set extremely low. The leaves appear during autumn and winter and persist until flowering ends, unless there is an earlier drought. This species likes alkaline ground.


If the ground is wet, or watered regularly then the common spotted-orchid or green-winged orchid (Anacamptis morio) can appear. However, these species have leaves higher up their stems, so do not like being mowed. Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis) also occurs in lawns but it has long leaves so resents being mowed too.


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Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis).
© Bill Temple



Common spotted-orchids or other dactylorhizas often appear in bog gardens or in pots that are in ponds. Unfortunately - unless these pots are of large diameter - the roots can be severely damaged by freezing which seriously reduces vigour.


The orchids most likely to appear with trees purchased from nurseries are broad-leaved helleborine (Epipactis helleborine), narrow-lipped helleborine (Epipactis leptochila) and white helleborine (Cephalanthera damasonium).


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Broad-leaved helleborine (Epipactis helleborine).
© Bill Temple


Broad-leaved helleborine has almost become a weed in North America since it arrived there. Even the mature plants of these species depend on the transfer of large amounts of nitrogen and carbon to the orchid from a tree via a fungus and pure white specimens of the first and last species are known which have no chlorophyll and are therefore unable to carry out photosynthesis. All three of these species can flower the first time they appear above ground because of the relationship between the orchid, fungus and tree.


Other orchids, occasionally found in lawns are autumn lady's-tresses (Spiranthes spiralis), early spider-orchid (Ophrys sphegodes) and man orchid (Orchis anthropophora) but these are local rather than widespread.


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Autumn lady’s-tresses (Spiranthes spiralis) and a pollinator.
© Bill Temple


Summer lady's-tresses (Spiranthes aestivalis) is now extinct in Britain as a result of collection by Victorians who collected every specimen at all-but-one of its known sites. The last site, in the New Forest, was drained thus killing the remaining plant. In Europe it lives in wet acidic conditions and can sometimes be found growing in a mat of earth and vegetation floating on top of lakes. The plants growing in the Museum's Wildlife Garden were raised from European seed.

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Summer lady’s-tresses (Spiranthes aestivalis) in the Wildlife Garden this week.
© Jonathan Jackson


Marsh helleborine (Epipactis palustris) is an attractive plant that grows in alkaline fens and dune slacks where is there is oxygenated water flowing.
It multiplies readily by vegetative means but can be tricky to raise from seed.


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Marsh helleborine (Epipactis palustris).
© Bill Temple

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Marsh helleborine (Epipactis palustris).
© Derek Adams


Please note that it is illegal to collect orchids or orchid seed from the wild in Britain without specific permission to do so. The potential fine is £5,000 per plant taken or damaged, and up to £10,000 per plant in some circumstances.”


Thank you Bill, and thank you to ‘Kingfisher’ for prompting our orchid blog. If you have more questions about orchids in your garden Bill will be happy to advise. You can contact him at the Hardy Orchid Society and visit Bill's website. Alternatively, if you are in London tomorrow, 13 July, visit the Hardy Orchid Society stands, amongst others, in the Darwin Centre courtyard and the Wildlife Garden at our Big Nature Day.


wpipalpollinator02h26 - 12 (Custom).JPGMarsh helleborine (Epipactis palustris) and pollinator.
© Bill Temple



One final thing before I go, the Museum's Fred Rumsey featured in this lovely film about bee orchids last year - I hope you enjoy it:


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