I made a trip to Kent to see the Man orchids Orchis anthrophora at Queensdown Warren. As we walked into the reserve The Husband (a man of Kent) said ‘I know this place, this is The Warren’ . It’s a place he knew as a child (50+ years ago) just a short bike ride from his grandfather’s farm. It wasn’t a reserve then of course, just a bit of farmland and woodland like any other. Later on in the pub he searched google maps for the farm (he didn’t know the name, it was just ‘The Farm’) and found it. Next morning we visited, met the new owner and had a tour of the old barns and new buildings. TH told of the winter of ’62/’63 when they were snowed in for 10 days and built an igloo, of collecting eggs in the barn and of finding abandoned army kit in the woods where soldiers were hidden during WWII. All very interesting and serendipitous but nothing to do with orchids.
On arriving at The Warren TH found the first Man of Kent and I discovered a group of several White helleborines in the wooded areas. Moving on to the next section of the reserve, we found many more Man orchids mostly along the upper boundary of the field, though it has a reputation for preferring the bottom of a slope. Some of the little hooded lime green figures are actively striding into the air, others hanging limply and justifying the french name L’Homme pendu – the hanged man. It is a chalkland species, it is nationally scarce and most of the UK records are in the Surrey and Kent downland. It will hybridise with Lady, Monkey and Military so presumably they can share pollinating insects but some spread is also by production of an extra tuber. I have been hand-pollinating some Man orchids in Suffolk this year – more on that another time.
The White helleborine Cephalanthera damasonium still has a single site in Herefordshire, but I haven’t seen it close to home, it is concentrated in Southern England especially the chalk of Kent, Surrey, the Chilterns and the Cotswolds. It is often found on the sloping ,leafy woodland floor of a beech wood. The flowers are a pure ivory and egg-shaped, they do not open very far and keep this rounded shape, looking as if they are still in bud. They are often self-pollinated and may do this before the flower is fully open (cleistogamy).
Like the Coralroot orchid, it has an association with the nearby trees via a mycorrhizal fungus and it steals nutrient from the trees, this enables it to live on the shady woodland floor where few other plants can survive the low light conditions.
Moving on through Queenswood warren we found a fenced area containing a host of Chalk fragrant orchids Gymnadenia conopsea, just starting to open their lowest buds. After much searching I found just one or two plants outside the fence and they willingly posed for photographs, as did one of the many Adonis Blue butterflies.
Near the bottom of the field we found a large area with dozens of Bee orchids Ophrys apifera, the most photogenic orchid in my opinion and always delightful to find.