Inspired by Steve Gale, a natural history blogger from a long, long way away in the south of England, I’ve been out and about in my fields counting orchids lately. (Steve’s been counting Pyramidal and Bee Orchids in his local area). I’ve a couple of fields that are particularly good for Heath Spotted Orchid, with a handful of Northern Marsh Orchid thrown in for good measure and – Dactylorhiza orchids being the promiscuous little hussies that they are – a fair hybrid swarm of both species mixed up all together.
One field’s a small one, and the other a much larger affair covering a couple of acres. The latter defies a ready count, but the former was more manageable. I tallied 187 Heath Spotted in the small field, all gathered in an area measuring roughly 100 square metres. The larger field has approximately two-thirds coverage with orchids at a similar (probably higher) density – giving an estimate of just shy of 10,000 Heath Spotted Orchids flowering in the big field.
It’s a great bit of land, with Butterwort Pinguicula vulgaris now coming into bloom in the dampest areas, the anaemic sickly yellow leaves looking like a poorly, malnourished starfish, but the flower a beautiful, graceful lilac borne on a curved stem. Getting a pleasing photo of an entire plant, leaves, flower and all is proving difficult – I think I need to find a good deep ditch someplace else before I can do this midge-devouring insectivorous plant justice.
Also of interest is a small stand of Moonwort Botrychium lunaria, a particularly lowly and understated small fern. Unfortunately it’s got a bit frazzled in the northerly winds we’ve been suffering lately, but you get the gist – it’s a subtle little thing barely three inches tall. In the past it had all manner of superstition associated with it, alchemists for one believing it would help in their quest to turn base metals into gold.
Nicholas Culpepper, the 17th Century herbalist, noted that it “will open locks, and unshoe such horses as tread upon it… I have heard commanders say, that on White Down in Devonshire, near Tiverton, there were found thirty horse shoes, pulled off from the feet of the Earl of Essex’s horses, being there drawn up in a body, many of them being but newly shod, and no reason known, which caused much admiration: the herb described usually grows upon heaths.”
So that’s us told then. Woe betide anyone riding roughshod near me. It’s not going to end well.