The Green winged orchid Anacamptis morio is having it’s moment now at the end of April. I visited Winks meadow in Suffolk this week and it was dotted across the field, splashes of deep purple (a few are pale pink or white) interspersed with the bright yellow cowslips. Where you find Green winged you often find them in large numbers and they look spectacular.
I have been growing them in the lab for a few years now, very successfully symbiotically and asymbiotically, but they are very popular so they tend to sell out before they flower.
This week I have my first flowering A morio in a pot. It was too small to sell earlier in the year, so I’m surprised it has flowered. I will have some more for sale in the autumn, which is the best time for planting out.
When I was away at the weekend The Husband called me to say he had mowed over an orchid in the lawn, he spotted it just too late. It’s a place that has never had orchids before, so I was pleased to hear that they are spreading and assumed it was a Common spotted. When I got home and looked I found it was a Green winged and it wasn’t one orchid it was eight.
Yes he mowed them all, but two of them have a couple of flower buds remaining and the group is now marked to prevent further destruction. I am chuffed to bits that A morio has decided to grow there – I have thrown around lots of spare seed and orchid chaff for years and this is the first sign of anything apart from the Common spotted. Our soil is slightly calcareous but quite fertile, so not ideal, but we have a couple of areas of wildflower meadow which are improving year on year. The A morio has chosen to grow in a part of the lawn that is cut regularly and it is in a very poor, mossy area close to a retaining wall – it’s the worst bit of soil in the garden.
So if you want self-seeding orchids all over your garden, you need very poor soil, rubble, grit, builders waste and very low fertility.
We had just driven off the ferry at Dover after visiting some friends in France and it was just the right time of year for Early spider orchids Ophrys sphegodes, so we followed the brown signs to Samphire Hoe. It is the strangest entrance to a reserve – a single lane concrete tunnel controlled by a traffic light. The board by visitor centre said to look in the back car park for Early Spiders, so I went anticlockwise and The Husband went clockwise round the back car park. I found the first ones at the far end, then a few more and through the gate along the gravel path at the back of the reserve, they were all the way along. They are about 10-15cm tall with 2-6 flowers on each. the flowers are green with a large hairy brown lip and an irridescent ‘H’ across the middle.
The reserve consists of 30 hectares of reclaimed land made from the spoil from the channel tunnel. It was spread at the foot of the chalk cliffs, a seawall prevents it from washing away and the new land was profiled to provide gentle hills and a couple of freshwater pools. The soil is very chalky, low in nutrient and suitable for interesting flora. We were there on a cold blustery, April afternoon so no butterflies and very little in the way of bird life. The Early spider orchids arrived in the 1990’s. Numbers peaked in 2012 at 11,500 and there are now maybe 5000 plants there.
Many orchid species, including this one, are pioneer species and love the bare, rocky ground with virtually no soil and little competition. They were growing happily along the edge of the raised gravel track. As the Hoe matures there is less bare ground available and more competition, which explains why the orchid numbers are declining. The management is sensitive to this and grazing with cattle helps to keep some areas open, with disturbed soil and will ensure that the Early spider doesn’t disappear.
It is one of the insect mimic species and is fertilised by pseudocopulation, when the unsuspecting small male wasp (not a spider) tries to mate with the flower instead of the female wasp. The deception is achieved not just visually, but may use scent and pheromones to attract the pollinator. It is a rare plant in the UK, classified as a Red Data Book species, but where it occurs; Dover, Durleston in Dorset and a few other sites on the South coast, it often occurs in huge numbers and makes a satisfying early orchid hunting trip.
As we walked back via the back car park we started spotting more, they were everywhere including the middle circle of the parking area and all round the edge. We had both walked straight past the first 10 or 15 plants – it’s the first trip of 2019 and I need to get my eye in.
The warm spring weather has brought out the first few leaves on the Common spotted orchids. The Southern marsh and Northern marsh are not far behind. This is a great time for planting out in your garden beds, tubs or wildflower meadow and these plants will all flower later this year.
I have been potting up some plants from the lab. These are Green winged orchids and they have nice sized roots and are strong enough to go out into pots of well drained media mix for the first time.
Green winged orchids are winter-green so in the wild their leaf rosettes have been weathering the winter, ready for early spring flowering. The flowers will start to show in the next few weeks. These plants have spent the winter in jars in the lab and will be ready for sale in the Autumn.