Friday, 2 December 2011
Saturday, 26 November 2011
|Epipactis atrorubens, early August, The Burren|
Our first stop was on the limestone pavement above Ballyvaughan where I had previously seen gone-over plants which I was convinced were ex-Dark-red Helleborines, sure enough, we found some in very good condition despite the lateness of our visit. I am sure the late flowering of this and many other orchids we found on our visit was due in no small part to the cold, wet summer that we in West Wales and Ireland have suffered this year. We also found many Fragrant Orchids (Gymnadenia conopsea) in excellent condition. The powerful scent of this lovely flower meant that we didn’t have to try too hard to find them – it was absolutely ravishing, and there were numerous plants still in full flower throughout The Burren.
Tuesday, 6 September 2011
Our visits to these wonderful nature reserves were greatly enhanced by our guides. The Senior Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) Wardens, Graham Williams (Newborough Warren) and Les Colley (Anglesey Fens) know these special habitats inside out and ensured that we saw many plants, insects and birds that we might otherwise have missed – and have missed on previous visits!
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
Bird's-nest Orchid growing with Butterfly Orchids
Regrettably we were too early to see Gymnadenia rhellicani (Black Vanilla Orchid) and Gymnadenia rubra (Red vanilla Orchid). These orchids were previously called Nigritella nigra ssp. rhellicani and Nigritella rubra respectively. We also failed to find Lady’s-slipper Orchid (Cypripedium calceolus) despite being there at the right time for it to be flowering. Species we did find, and in great abundance, were Common Spotted-orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii), Bird’s-nest Orchid (Neottia nidus-avis), Sword-leaved Helleborine (Cephalanthera longifolia), White Helleborine (Cephalanthera damasonium), Red Helleborine (Cephalanthera rubra), Dark-red Helleborine (Epipactis atrorubens), Lesser Butterfly Orchid (Platanthera bifolia), Common Twayblade (Neottia ovata). In smaller numbers we found Coral-root Orchid (Corallorrhiza trifida) and Burnt Orchid (Orchis ustulata). Both Chalk Fragrant-orchid (Gymnadenia conopsea) and Gymnadenia odoratissima grow together in the dry Alpine meadows. This list just scratches the surface of the vast number of orchid species it’s possible to see in Slovenia and we are really hoping that we’ll be able to return again soon to see many more.
The one and only - a single Military Orchid on a roadside in Slovenia
Sunday, 7 August 2011
Our first trip this year was to the by now familiar territory of the Algarve in Portugal, but it was a bit too late to see many of the species which frequently come into flower at the end of February or the beginning of March. Nevertheless we went to walk in some new places and found some good sites for a number of species that have been ‘lost ‘ to us due to the onslaught of development which continues to destroy so many wildlife habitats, albeit slightly more slowly in the current economic climate. Given the profound nature of the recession in Portugal, and in other parts of Europe, it is difficult to understand what drives the development of so many new sites when earlier projects have been abandoned and languish empty with rank weeds taking over where rare and beautiful wildflowers once flourished.
One new spot we visited was the freshwater spring of Fonte Benemola which lies behind the quaint walled town of Querenca. The area is predominantly limestone and so many orchid species grow there including Ophrys lusitanica the rather rare and strange relative of the Mirror Orchid (Ophrys speculum). Other species we saw included the Man Orchid (Orchis anthropophorum), The Woodcock Orchid (Ophrys scolopax), the Yellow Bee Orchid (Ophrys lutea) and Broad-leaved Helleborine (Epipactis helleborine). Another lovely Algarve wildflower grows there in far greater numbers than we have seen before – Scilla peruviana – a lovely, pyramid-shaped, purple scilla which is one of my favourites. The other limestone hill Rocha da Pena which is close by has many of the same species of orchids flowering there.
We saw more Bee Orchids than usual in the Algarve this spring.
One species that we saw far more of on this trip was the Bee Orchid – Ophrys apifera. This was in part due to our later than usual arrival in the Algarve, but we also saw them growing in large colonies on the roadside verges right out to the west of the area. We had really only seen this species in Boca do Rio just west of Lagos, but these ‘new’ plants were much further out and we had not seen the plants at Boca do Rio for several years. The Bee Orchid despite being one of the species which actively extends its territory once it becomes established is nevertheless an unreliable flowrer and will often disappear from locations only to reappear several years later and sometimes in greater numbers than had previously been observed.
Anacamptis champagneuxii photographed near Monchique
Other notable species from this trip were the small and localised groups of Dense-flowered Orchid (Orchis intacta) on the roadside verges up in the mountains beyond Monchique. These are not easy to spot but are very close to the summit of Foia and are on the left hand side of the road on the way back down to Monchique. Also growing in the same place were two other species that we had not seen there before: Early-purple Orchid (Orchis mascula) (the considerable drop in temperature up at Foia would account for this early-flowering species being there at the end of April), and also Anacamptis champagneuxii – the subspecies of the Green-winged Orchid (Anacamptis morio). As we had only found a few plants of the latter in a small colony between Silves and Monchique until this trip, this new location was a source of great satisfaction and we took lots of photographs – just as well as they had mysteriously disappeared when we returned to bid them farewell before leaving for home a few days later.
Friday, 18 March 2011
We can expect to see our first wild orchids flowering any time from mid-April onwards, the very first being the Early Purple Orchid (Orchis mascula). In a good year these lovely flowers can appear before the end of April, but they may be a little late this year due to the bitterly cold weather that we (and they) endured during November, December and January. This orchid is a beautiful flower, which often grows to 40cm in height. It has dark, glossy green leaves with dark spots, and its flower is pinkish-purple although some are a really deep purple colour. It is also not unknown for completely white flowers to occur, and we have seen several in Wales close to where we live. Its favoured habitats are woodland edges, and it also grows in neutral to calcareous grasslands. In Pembrokeshire in Wales it can also often be seen on roadside verges. One of its strengths and the reason why this orchid has fared better than many other species in Britain may be its tolerance of different soil types and habitats.
Early Purple Orchids have been even more abundant in past times in the UK, and they are listed as having up to 90 local names. The flowers have a very sweet scent when they first open but are described as smelling of tom cat as they age.
Generally speaking it is hard to confuse the Early Purple Orchid with any other species since it flowers so well ahead of the others, but in some places it can be accompanied, or closely followed by the Green-winged Orchid (Anacamptis morio).The Green-winged Orchid is much less common in the UK, however, and is in serious decline due to the destruction of its habitats. It is a flower of old, unimproved meadows, and this habitat is becoming rarer and rarer in these days of intensive agriculture. In certain parts of Europe it is a different story and Green-winged Orchids can occur in vast numbers. We have seen them in Portugal, Italy and France in considerable numbers. One of the best places in the UK to see these lovely orchids, which occur in a large range of colours from white, pale pink to deep purple, is Bristol Waterworks! Strange as this may seem, they have a wonderful area of grassland in front of their main building that is quite literally covered with Green-winged Orchids in late April.
Thanks to our many friends and contacts in Portugal we are already getting reports of the first orchids to appear there - so far we have been told that Sword-leaved Helleborine (Cephalanthera longifolia) is flowering in the eastern Algarve, and of the appearance of leaves of Broad-leaved Helleborine (Epipactis helleborine). Memories of our many springtime visits tell us that there will be many other species flowering by now, too - the flowering of the Mirror Orchid (Ophrys speculum), the Bumblebee Orchid (Ophrys bombyliflora), Yellow Bee Orchid (Ophrys lutea) and Ophrys fusca should be in full swing.
Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Every autumn we run off to sunny Portugal to see and photograph the mind-boggling variety of fungi that can be found throughout the forests and in the hills above the Algarve. These visits usually take place in November and so there is not much to report on the flower front although, even at that time of year, signs of spring are starting to become apparent.
When visiting Portugal it's useful to bear in mind that plant lifecycles are operating on a very different time schedule from northern European countries: high summer in the Algarve is as dead as the depths of winter in Northern Europe, and when it is over, the land is completely parched and covered with dead, brown vegetation. The first rains in autumn produce almost immediate signs of spring growth - the leaves of Bermuda Buttercup start appearing in October and November followed closely by their flowers in December. Other confusing floristic combinations such as Friar’s Cowl and Autumn Crocuses flowering together lie in wait for the observant; and along the roadsides, vivid green leaves of Common Asphodel vie with the plentiful fungi for our attention. The asphodel flowers will not appear until the New Year – or maybe late December in some exceptionally warm years.
And similarly we have often found fungi that we would see in late summer in the UK growing alongside spring flowers in the Algarve. Delicious summer Chanterelles, which appear in August in southern England, can be found in Portugal in February, when spring is really gathering pace.
The annual race to be the first orchid to bloom in the Algarve is well underway by November and December. Most frequently in recent years the winner has been the Yellow Bee Orchid, Ophrys lutea, closely followed by the Bumblebee Orchid, Ophrys bombyliflora, and the Mirror Orchid, Ophrys speculum. But, always lurking and well hidden in scrub and brush, is Ophrys fusca, whose many faces make it the King of Confusion for those who like absolute certainty in identification. The 'been there, seen that' orchid twitchers amongst us have met their nemesis with this orchid. It's about this time of year that I pick up my well-thumbed copy of Pierre Delforge's magnum opus,'The Orchids of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East', determined that once and for all I will go through my hundreds of pictures of Ophrys fusca and identify each one with absolute certainty using the pictures in the book. So what else is a sad orchid fan supposed to do in winter? I shall fail as comprehensively this year as I have in every preceding one, but I will as always be convinced that, as a result of my studies, I shall be absolutely equipped to identify accurately all the examples of Ophrys fusca that I will see next spring - a confidence that will vanish as quickly as the early spring mist that hangs over some of our favourite orchid sites close to the sea in the Algarve!
Another of the many faces of Ophrys fusca