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Sunday, September 20, 2020
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Home News Notes from the sticks: Uncommon orchids

Notes from the sticks: Uncommon orchids

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THERE is a former limestone quarry near us, disused since the early 1900s, which is now a nature reserve. It is a haven for all sorts of wildflowers including orchids, which I had never seen before we moved here. Last summer I was able to identify four species using an excellent online guide produced by the Natural History Museum. (I took pictures on my phone to look them up at home, I did not pick any.) According to the guide there are 56 native species of orchid, some so rare that their locations are kept secret. Disappointingly, all the ones I have seen are described as common, but I think that is a relative term. Or perhaps I have had my eyes closed. Certainly I did not realise they were widespread so I never looked for them.

The earliest of ‘my’ orchids to come out is the common twayblade (Neottia ovata), which has distinctive twin (‘tway’) rounded leaves at the base of the stem.

I took this picture in which you can see the immature flower spikes, which I will show you when they come out. I have to say that they are not the most spectacular flowers, but they are nonetheless orchids, which has an exotic ring to it. You can see the scale from the blades of grass – they are hard to spot at first but when you have your eye in, there are plenty of them.

The site is managed by the Lancashire Wildlife Trust, but it is hard to find out from the website what ‘management’ means. I don’t know if they cut down young trees to stop the area returning to forest. I have never seen any rangers to ask. I am sure many of us would love to have a bit more information about how they protect the plants. Sometimes organisations with the best intentions can seem rather like private members’ clubs.

PS: While I was writing this article, I came across something that made me sad: last year council contractors destroyed a protected Roadside Nature Reserve which was home to 17,000 wild orchids. To be honest I had not heard of Roadside Nature Reserves but now I know that they are part of a scheme promoted by the Wildlife Trusts. Apparently there are 300,000 miles of road verges where nearly half of the country’s 720 wildflower species can be found, as well as providing shelter for small animals and birds, and the Trusts try to advise councils on the best times to mow, or not to mow at all. It has been great during the lockdown to see verges round here allowed to grow naturally. It has always baffled me how local authorities can claim to be short of cash but can find the money to shave verges down to the roots even where there can be no possible safety issue.

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The gunneras have had a good week, with milder nights and one really lovely day on Wednesday. I can now see that the right hand plant did get scorched by frost a couple of weeks ago.

Here is last week’s picture:

And here is yesterday’s.

You can see a flower spike on the right hand plant – it is a prehistoric-looking brown cone shape; here it is in close-up:

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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