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How to search for orchids in the wild

PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 March 2015

Dactylorhiza maculate at RHS Harlow Carr

Dactylorhiza maculate at RHS Harlow Carr

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Expect the unexpected when you go looking for orchids in the wild, says Liz Groves

Dactylorhiza fuchsia grow wild at RHS Harlow Carr, Harrogate Photo by Lee BealDactylorhiza fuchsia grow wild at RHS Harlow Carr, Harrogate Photo by Lee Beal

Orchids are among the most fascinating plants in the world and those who love and grow them will often keep information about their wild habitats to themselves. Today people are now encouraged to discover more about them at flower shows and in the wild. Liz Groves, a lover of orchids all her adult life and a member of the Harrogate Orchid Society said it was no longer necessary to keep secret the places where orchids thrive. ‘The more people know about them the more they will appreciate them and protect them,’ said Liz. ‘There are many varieties out there and in the most unlikely places. For example you are likely to find them along the side of a road bypass because their seeds will have been imported to the site with the soil.’

Orchid spotting can be frustrating as well as rewarding because often a lovely display seen one year will be gone the next and may not reappear for years, said Liz. ‘A lot depends on how they do at a particular time and of course the weather can affect them. They can be here one day and gone the next. It could be as simple as an animal passing by and knocking off the delicate flower and it’s gone. People should enjoy them when they see them because they may not be there next time. And of course don’t pick them in the wild, leave them for others to enjoy.’

There are many kinds of orchids ranging from the plain almost weed-like to the rare and very exotic. Some have wonderful perfumes others not so great, added Liz. ‘There is an orchid that smells of chocolate (the multi-spiked Sharry Baby, Chocolate Oncidium). My ambition is to grow a vanilla pod orchid but I know it is impossible, well certainly very difficult but everyone has got to have a dream, haven’t they? I don’t think many people appreciate that when they scrape the seeds from a vanilla pod it comes from an orchid.’

Andrew Willocks from RHS Harlow Carr Gardens, Harrogate, said they have three different species of orchids growing in the wild at Harlow Carr. ‘The most frequently seen are the two different species of Common Spotted Orchid Dactylorhiza maculate, and Dactylorhiza fuchsia which was formerly a sub species of D.maculata.

The rare Ladys Slipper orchid was seen at Kilnsey Park nature reserve in the Yorkshire Dales in 2012. Kilnsey Park was one of the first places to be chosen to reintroduce the rare plant which was declared extinct in Britain in 1917. Photo AlamyThe rare Ladys Slipper orchid was seen at Kilnsey Park nature reserve in the Yorkshire Dales in 2012. Kilnsey Park was one of the first places to be chosen to reintroduce the rare plant which was declared extinct in Britain in 1917. Photo Alamy

‘Dactylorhiza maculate tends to be found on boggy, neutral to acid soil while Dactylorhiza fuchsii is found on more neutral to dry limey soil. The two plants are almost identical however the central lobe of the flower is slightly longer in D.fuchsii when compared to D.maculata.

‘We also have the Common Twayblade Orchid Listera ovate which tends to frequent the grassland areas to the edge of the woodland. We have also recorded Pyramidal Orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis this species does not seem to have established itself in the gardens.’

The Wildlife Trusts have reported an increase in northern marsh orchids at Flamborough Cliffs which is a Wildlife Trusts coastal nature reserve as well as at Kiplincotes Chalk Pit.

Burton Agnes Hall, East Yorkshire has a display of exotic orchids on March 7th and 8th when hundreds of plants will be on show. Orchid expert Ray Creek will be on hand to answer questions and provide expert advice about growing and caring for orchids. Simon Cunliffe-Lister at the hall said: ‘Orchids are extremely versatile plants and flower for many weeks or even months at a time. We decorate our home with orchids year-round as they are both exquisitely beautiful and surprisingly easy to care for; we hope that visitors might feel inspired to keep these magnificent flowering plants in your own home.’

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