This is a rare weekend at home for me in the midst of my summer of incessant orchid-hunting. It’s been a chance to catch up with chores around the croft… though I’ve found myself wandering around my fields looking at ‘my’ Dactylorhiza orchids. This year’s recent habits die hard.
Last weekend was a long and busy one. I began with a speculative look at Lindisfarne’s dune slacks to see how the endemic Lindisfarne Helleborine Epipactis sancta were coming along – they’re a little late this year and, sure enough, they weren’t out yet. I’ll be heading back there shortly for them. Meanwhile, there were the first of the Marsh Helleborines and many iterations of Early Marsh Orchid to enjoy – with a handful of Common Twayblade and Pyramidal Orchids for good measure.
From Lindisfarne to Rum, via Speyside and what was undoubtedly the most impressive orchid site I’ve seen yet this year – a field jammed with over 1,000 Small White Orchids, 5,000 Lesser Butterfy Orchids and 5,000 Heath Fragrant Orchids. This was a nationally significant aggregation.
I had really hoped to find the unusual intergeneric hybrid between Small White and Heath Fragrant Orchid at a site such as this, but could only manage a suggestively pale Heath Fragrant in the final reckoning. I wasn’t complaining though – this small field made me smile and laugh aloud – a really special and spectacular place absolutely bursting with brilliant plants.
Staying with a good friend, we spent the afternoon catching up with the first Creeping Lady’s-tresses in the pine woods and, for a little non-orchid variety, impossibly delicate and rare Twinflower Linnaea borealis, an Arctic-Alpine beauty restricted to Scotland in the UK in the wake of the last Ice Age.
Rum was hard work – a 17 mile round trip, cross-country and on foot with all of my camera and camping gear on my back. The rain barely let up for a moment for the 24 hours I was on the island, and I ended up having to ford rivers and burns in full spate. The ground was utterly saturated – small wonder bog-loving carnivorous plants were so abundant here, with luxuriant stands of Butterwort, Great and Round-leaved Sundew all commonplace. All this looking for Pugsley’s Marsh Orchid, last reliably seen there in 1998 – for how that search went, you’ll need to wait for the book…
The long weekend ended on North Uist’s botanically rich machair coastal fringes. I spent happy hours wandering flower-studded fields boiling with breeding birds. My main target was Hebridean Marsh Orchid and, after some nervous times while I thought they’d all finished flowering and gone to seed, I finally found some flowering plants in good condition. Amongst carpets of bubblegum pink Common Centaury there were many more Early Marsh Orchids, with plenty of rich carmine Early Marsh Orchids of the scarcer subspecies coccinea and deep burgundy Frog Orchids.
I’d heard of past records of the unusual hybrid between Frog Orchid and Northern Marsh Orchid from North Uist, so I elected to spend my last hour on the machair searching for these on the fringes of a dense colony of Frog Orchid. I was delighted to find not one but two of them in the end – a particularly satisfying conclusion to the latest orchid expedition, one that had involved particularly rare plants, spectacularly beautiful locations, mild discomfort and, for the first time this year, a real sense of danger and risk.
I felt I’d earned my spurs last weekend.