Irish Lady’s Tresses

ENLARGE (marked Images)
L E G E N D   2020  Total number of specimens seen and recorded in 2020 was 513. An RGB marking system (red, green and blue Pins) is used on our underlying Data Sheet to mark early, middle and late records. This helps to avoid duplication by eliminating subsequent records that are ‘too close’ to earlier records. L O C A T I O N S: A: Drummin Bay Lough Cullin  Running from Car Park 1 (nearest to Foxford) to south side of Pontoon Bridge. Observations Drummin Bay is a  peaceful site with the good numbers of records every year. B: Massbrook Harbour and Terrybaun shoreline.  Running from the busy angling base with many boats to Terrybaun and the south shore of L. Conn to Pontoon Bridge Observations Most specimens are found along the stony shore immediately east of the fishing harbour. East of that is ‘new territory’ as far as Terrybaun that produced good numbers last year adding 46 records to our yearly total — but none this year! C: Lower West Shore of L. Conn. A continuous stretch of shore from Massbrook northwards to Addergoole Cemetery. Observations This is the area that produced striking evidence of a North American source of this rare member of Ireland’s flora. It contains many Spiranthes in two sections with the middle part  now bare of specimens due to shore scrub clearance. An exciting area with often dense groups of orchids and a wide range of niches along a bouldery shore with the plants sometimes occurring in sandy areas at low water and other specimens found in the back shore among bushes and larger boulders. D: Errew north to Gortnor Abbey. Errew is a long headland crossing half the lake north of Addergoole which always had some some records; now numbers are increasing. Small numbers also at Gortnor Abbey further north. E: The Lagoon and surrounding pasture, north L. Conn.  A small lagoon on a large bay between Crossmolina and the Deel River. Observations A site we discovered in 2015 which has always yielded good numbers of orchids alongside the small meandering streams draining the flooded area but also in among taller grasses and bushes. Last year, for the first time, cattle broke in and did considerable damage. An unfortunate mistake as this site is normally well protected. This area could make a good conservation zone as it is unowned, of little use for farming, and brilliant for S. romanzoffiana. F: East shore from Deel River to Sandy Bay. Sporadic records from much suitable habitat but vulnerable to onshore grazing by Horses. G: East shore west and south of Knockmore.  A small, inlet south of Knockmore, is now the main area producing records on the east shore. Observations An old site used for some genetic research on this species by the Botanic Gardens. For many years it has produced few records. Last years numbers were the best we have every seen. All records are from sandy shore, or grazing areas near the shore, or in shallow water among reeds. An exposed shoreline north of the inlet looks ideal for the species but we have never found any there; we suspect it is just too rocky with many big boulders and not enough sand or suitable binding between them. H: South East corner L. Conn. Small area subject to flooding and with some cliffs has had moderate numbers in the past. The square bay on the east has many suitable sites… X: Islands and random locations It is the nature of the species (wind borne seed dispersal) that it can appear anywhere suitable and may survive there for many years if left undisturbed. LOCAL KNOWLEDGE IS SO USEFUL: if you have seen these plants anywhere, either in the locations listed or in new locations, we would be very pleased to hear from you.  

Terrybaun Beauty…

This is the race horse of Irish Lady’s Tresses. In fact it’s a Derby with 4 of them in the group! One of our best sightings for 2019. A new territory in a very isolated and inaccessible area of south L. Conn between Massbrook Bay and the perilous cliffs of coarse grained Granodiorite guarding the outflow of the lake south to L. Cullin. It was a sense of completion that lead us there. It is a changing landscape moving from gently sloping shore of every increasing boulder size to eventually sharp fault defined cliffs dropping straight into the water — an unusual feature around the coast of L. Conn. Reported on The Log for 23rd of August 2019… It is unusual to see 4 such perfect flowers so tightly clustered together. This picture is reminiscent of images one sees from North America. But it was one of a small number of occurrences on this somewhat barren southern shore. Of course, none occurred on the cliffs — they had their own flora — but they were present in medium sized groups where the shore was flatter, sandier and grassier. More often, at the start of the year the species may be glimpsed as sage green straight tight buds shooting up through wet grass or under a boulder often near a beach or shore, as BELOW.

Survey Project (2020) for this rare Orchid.

For some Covid adventure (exercise, fresh air, wind, rain) come to N. Mayo and help us record these rare plants. We record these every year. For details of, and comparison with, last years trips, days, records from L. Conn and L. Cullin go to our Spiranthes2019 Log Page where you will find detailed accounts of many trips over a 3 month period with numerous photographs and observations.

This Page NOW shows the final report for the current season: July to September 2020.

Spiranthes romanzoffiana this year is flowering a bit late. Only Site A has been recorded so far. Numbers seem promising but weather may be an issue. At time of writing levels are OK but close to difficult. Consequently  numbers will need to be checked quickly and often if the areas shown in the map (RIGHT) are to be covered as well as some other areas in the north and east where the species was once abundant but is now less common due to developing threats along these shore. The area between E and F used to be a stronghold but plants are now only recorded in isolated places where the shore is protected. Any records from this stretch are VERY IMPORTANT. By contrast the west shore from B to D is secure and well sheltered by woodland and forestry and has only one area where the habitat has been ‘landscaped’. (Actually, this shouldn’t happen as this is a protected species.) We would WELCOME any HELP from people seeing this small, or sometimes dramatic, plant growing near the waterline either on sandy or grassy or tree lined shores, esp. Alders.… (20th July 2020)

Seeing if this special bit of our biodiversity is thriving or just surviving.

Updates completed 21 September 2020.

We are covering a lot of area around Lakes Cullin and Conn and cannot

report until early Sept. Reports now available from 25th - 31st August. See


It’s been a very tough survey this year with our tracks along the shore often blocked by high flood waters. If missed sites had been available we might have added another 100. (A total of 613 would be similar to last year but loss of seed would have been total?)

Please use Contact Us button below if you have any information on areas we

have missed. Many thanks…

+ + Spiranthes romanzoffiana  2020 SURVEY
Pontoon Bridge
‘The Lagoon’
Example of recent specimen recorded at L. Cullin this year. They emerge rapidly!

513 plants:

OV E R V I E W:   2020 Survey to date (July 20th L. Cullin) 52 Only one site has been surveyed to date due to poor weather conditions. That survey was the main Spiranthes bearing parts of Site A. Unfortunately part of this site has been damaged by removal of an important part of the Habitat in an effort to make the beach bigger (possibly a Covid response to provide fresh air outlet for families). Unfortunately it is illegal to damage either the plants or their habitat! (This has been rectified.) Our main concern is the long convoluted East Shore of L. Conn. This is hard to access and contains a lot of secluded areas where this plant may still survive. So if you see a striking white flower on the shoreline or in nearby fields or wooded areas, do check it out and please let us know if it resembles the images shown left. This is a very rare plant and Ireland is a stronghold for the species. There are undoubtedly some orchids remaining here but the large colonies found 5 years ago are a thing of the past? Significantly the East Shore is different from the West Shore, mainly in regard to land use and development. In previous years Cattle and Horses were kept off the shore; now they are widespread and the rare orchid has gone from many former sites. Farming is under pressure to maintain its beef industry. Maybe there are ways the agricultural economy and our Natural Heritage can work hand in hand; we certainly would have the data to inform such new thinking and new land use policies. The only similarly damaged area on the west shore is a small area north of the Lower West Shore where scrub clearing has removed many plants.

Second Survey: July 29th. (L. Conn) 75

Moderately heavy levels of rainfall in the area at present is making surveys difficult. Three known haunts were reached and yielded a further 75 specimens. This included the important Site C which has had very high numbers in recent years. The area has been much affected by storms and floods both this year and last year and many old ‘regulars’ were not to be seen. Maybe later if water levels drop! However, an inlet near Knockmore (See Map ABOVE) on the east shore yielded surprising good results and the Car Park site at L. Cullin now has 32 specimens struggling in the area where their habitat was interfered with having survived and are even showing signs of producing seed. Apologies for the cursory reports. This has been our most difficult year at the Mayo Lakes but we still hope to approach levels close to last years records. At present (Aug 8th) the season is not a complete wash-out and new sites are producing some records.. More News in a few days. EAST SHORE needs work and we are convinced that pockets of this orchid may still exist. Look for shores that are undamaged, ungrazed, and gently sloping without dense vegetation on them. If you know any such area do pay it a visit and we would be delighted to hear of any records. This is an enigmatic species and is a survivor in these difficult times. It should be our mascot! But, above all… STAY SAFE.  www.wildwest.ie
6th August

E: North shore Lagoon and Meadow

C: West shore, inlet south of Addergoole

A very successful visit to The Lagoon and marginal success at Zone C

Water Level and Spiranthes surveying.

By and large Spiranthes romanzoffiana occurs at a specific height above normal ‘Summer’ lake level. This means that at abnormal water levels the plant may be drowned or stranded in parched dry ground when there is little rain. Today’s survey was undertaken knowing (from previous visits) that the orchids at The Lagoon might be dry. This site has the highest crop of Spiranthes that we know from around either lake. This is caused by a very restricted entry of water into  the ‘marsh’. It tends to be a safe haven for the species and is only rarely damaged by wandering animals. Our first survey on 9th July was under similar conditions but proved fruitless. Today with water levels high most sites would have been unavailable. We have a reference to site levels which relates past years experience to Water level data from 2 water gauges, one for L. Cullin and one for L. Conn. Reference to this table indicated that the only viable survey location today could be The Lagoon. It was a pleasant relief to find our hunches correct and many fresh or mature flowers waiting our count. 39 specimens were recorded in The Lagoon with a further 5 in an adjoining meadow. This is an unprotected area but there seems to be a stock of Spiranthes roots there which produce strong healthy plants in early August each year. There were probably many more flowering in past days but the specimens recorded were lucky to survive as the area is grazed. Surveying of The Lagoon had to be done on a grid basis as there were no obvious clusters — just many small emergent specimens and a few larger specimens with many open flowers (RIGHT). However the grid survey showed that the specimens were widely dispersed and solitary… seed deposition from flood water? The area is essentially flat and the restricted entry retains water in the site even in very dry weather. Plants were found in all suitable conditions and, one suspects, at a very consistent height. All were out of open water and some a good distance from it. Plants seen in earlier years were not evident on this survey and were missing from some recognisable features along channels — now being found instead further away from channel edges. Why? Perhaps just the vagaries of settlement at different water levels over past seeding seasons. This is an obvious location for self-seeding among the community as opposed to wind blown seeding from far away.
Typical Spiranthes habitat at The Lagoon. 44 This year plants were well dispersed and not clustered on grassy hummocks near water. These lagoons come and go quickly after the lake breaks through unprotected gaps in the Alder and the sand bank shore. Distribution of plants will vary depending on source of seed, establishment of a viable colony, and maintenance of ideal conditions for the species.

The Habitat.

ABOVE we show the only entry into this site. The water outside is rough and lapping around the stems of the ubiquitous Alder trees. These trees are the main players in habitat succession as they can grow happily in sand and in water. They are sturdy bushes that provide shelter and stability for the shore, favoured by the orchid at the early stage, but will eventually become too overgrown. Only one plant survives at this entrance and was being severely battered by waves. The Spiranthes beds  are shown UPPER LEFT. In earlier years the species seemed to follow the pattern of streams entering the lagoon. This year they are more dispersed. The site is very well protected by the narrow entrance and large areas of habitat are higher than elsewhere — available for this species when other unsheltered regions of the lake are flooded and not available for this species. (See Part 2 Addergoole, BELOW)

The Plants   (RIGHT)

As mentioned, no plants were detected on a visit 3 weeks ago; today 39 occurred around The lagoon. Many of these were buds with just one flower open; several in the more open ground were starting to display the typical spiral with many flowers opening. This shows how rapidly this plant can emerge, bud, and flower. The numbers so far are still lower than last year but there is plenty of time for many more to appear. It would be nice to get this colony up to 100 again!



C: West shore, inlet south of Addergoole. 6

The second, and wetter part of our trip was to the south shore of a a very pointed inlet that marks the top of Site C, a fairly productive area but today underwater. The Inlet has a sprinkling of Spiranthes on its south shore and greater numbers as the shore turns south and becomes part of the long east facing coast.
Solitary Plants. Typical of this shore is a pattern of plants occurring widely spaced apart along the middle, often barren, shore. The specimen LEFT is in a higher position in a dell sheltered by grasses and a line of small trees. Long straight stony Shore In good conditions plants grow  just below the current waterline on a south shore of gravel, cobbles and isolated stumps.
LEFT Calm overgrown shore as inlet ends. At this point the shoreline turns suddenly south (See Map) and becomes more exposed. All along this coast from the top of the inlet to the open coast of L. Conn is about 1.2k with only four S. romanzoffiana found. These were at the outer bay between the inlet and the open east facing shore. Normally as you pass the corner into the main lake the shore widens and orchid numbers increase. However, as the image (RIGHT) shows this coast is largely flooded and un-surveyable! A long bare stony shore exists beyond the point and good numbers occur here, but still widely spaced.  This shore continues down to a Camping Site and a formerly good grassy shore which unfortunately has been bulldozed with loss of biodiversity.  This habitat is in good condition, just missing small trees! It is a characteristic of Spiranthes romanzoffiana that they appear and disappear from favourite haunts. But if this process continues too long (10 yrs?) it may be wise to conclude that they are gone. However there is always the possibility of re-seeding suitable habitats by either local seed or foreign seed. The efficacy of Irish seed may be suspect as it is very often released into water from drowned and battered plants. Seed is more likely to germinate when sown dry.
10th August

A very good day for Spiranthes orchids… North L. Cullin

Finally a mild grey peaceful day and so many orchids to record. This section of shore extends the populous bay at Drummin at the NE corner of L. Cullin across to Pontoon. (See Map.)  It was spectacular today with 122 specimens recorded. These have now been added to the Map above and brings Total to 300. This is not a bad count with many known places uncounted due to rain and cold wind. It could still be possible to double this number

A: North Shore L. Cullin

BELOW is a collection of specimens from today’s survey showing some of the many fine specimens seen. Present warm weather is suiting the orchids and many new large fresh flowers were present. It is time to remember that these are exceedingly rare orchids at this side of the Atlantic and not a heritage we should take for granted.

The places where they are found:

Look at the habitat shown in these surrounding photographs. Conn/Cullin is the major base for this species in this Island. The geology here is largely hard grey sandstone, a tough  and slightly acid rock. Above is the last vestige of a ridge rounded and disappearing underwater. Similarly broken fragments and ice carried erratics (granodiorite?) cover the whole area with some massive boulders lining the shore (BELOW) — a favourite retreat for the delicate Spiranthes! Equally happy in long grass and tangled bushes, particularly Bog Myrtle — an abundant low bush on these coasts — as can be seen RIGHT and FAR RIGHT

Meadow Habitat:

Apart from very coastal distribution Spiranthes also favoured undisturbed wet meadows some distance from the shoreline particularly when they were protected by Myrtle or small Alders as shown RIGHT. Some of these flat wet meadows were quite extensive with habitat for Spiranthes romanzoffiana plentiful. The Spiranthes often occurred either where a small bush offered shelter near a pool or else randomly scattered some distance from the shore, probably just settling there when flood waters receded leaving new seeds to establish themselves. There is a lot to know about this species yet.

An Island of Spiranthes. (LEFT)

This little ‘island’ contained 30 specimens spread all around the perimeter, with another 21 on the nearby mainland. All this area was lightly grazed and many animals seem to single out Spiranthes as a tasty delicacy. It is an interesting lesson in protection. The photo misleads a bit; the small channel is quite deep with even sharper rocks underwater than appearing above it. Despite being only a 10m stretch the underlying jagged rocks and soft mud would deter even the most adventurous of cows! Grazing can easily eliminate this rare species in many traditional areas if a way to preserve biodiversity at the same time as advancing farming is not found.

Finally, a collection of some of the best specimens for the day…

(Left to Right) 2 flowers behind one another, two tall single plants and a group of three! It is not common to find multiple flowers so close to one another…
Two sheltered specimens in among Bog Myrtle and young Alders
One of a series of spaced out plants established away from the shore
20th July: 52
29th July: 19
29th July: 21
29th July: 32
6th Aug: 44
6th Aug:  6
10th Aug: 122
Map now shows areas surveyed, dates and numbers recorded.
13th Aug: 46
13th Aug: 7

Ooops, we made a mistake.

Quick Update: 13th August 2020…` Today another 53 specimens were recorded at the North East shore near a striking isthmus south of Wherrew. (ZONE F) Also on the south shore of L. Conn 7 were found on a new promising site facing north up the lake with just the right mix of pebble sand and low vegetation, might yield many more if this difficult site can be reached again. (ZONE H) We carry our cameras and GPS in one Green Box; change of clothes in another. Today we forgot to pack the gear! So numbers and locations are hand recorded and new finds have been added to our Survey Map by date. More updates to follow… See Full Report on August 18th, BELOW, where the major east shore find was revisited and accurately recorded.
15th Aug: 33
15th Aug: 1
15th August
10th August

Sandy Bay and Cloghans Pier

(Zone F): 34 new plants

Appropriately named, Sandy Bay lies south of Cloghans and is an area we have not recorded before. It is a popular Summer resort for swimming with warm brown marl ‘sand’, very clear water and a gently sloping beach. Both on the edges of this beach, in the marsh behind it and along some of the exposed limestone headland north west of the bay, many Spiranthes are to be found. One of the first of these is what we are now tending to call S. romanzoffiana frillia (unofficially, of course). This is a late season variant of the typical Spiranthes flowers with certain flowers having a distinctly kinky appearance (stem joints) and a softer more frilly appearance to some of the maturer flowers. Spiranthes tends to have all its flowers on 1 flowering head; the variant produces flowers lower down the stem and where it does a kink (sharp bend) occurs as the bud and stem are produced resulting in a swelling and curling of the bract…

Assessing Flower morphology:

At this time of year certain consistent traits become apparent in a small number of specimens. Initially (2018) it was only one specimen, last year 3 (0.45% of population examined), this year starting to prove more common! Variation could be simply due to ageing and weather conditions but change of stem form seems to suggest some underlying genetic factor… BELOW: Photography of a ‘frilly’ specimen and its habitat.


The 3 images (RIGHT and BELOW Right) show the characteristic different  form of the florets as they appear in some mature specimens at this time of year. Image RIGHT shows the distinctly frilled and confused appearance of these flowers; they are not so tidy and spiral as the classic S. romanzoffiana  and the upper part of the flowers show separation into 4 delicate segments, particularly clear in the dying flower at FAR Right. Close up detail is shown BELOW
LEFT Typical marshland habitat for Spiranthes, around a shallow ‘sandy’ shore with much sheltering vegetation to protect the species. Typically Bog Myrtle, Alder and Mint are obvious indicators.

Changing Weather patterns; how weather affects Spiranthes?

This year has been a chaotic one with an early Summer drought, late emerging, rapid flowering and then… flooding. This is a common pattern with S. romanzoffiana in Ireland where all known occurrences (as far as we know) have been close to water and prone to flooding with only a few ‘wet days’ — such as occur rather frequently here. Weather is also vital in maintaining stock in Ireland as our own plants are marginal and may only rarely reproduce by seed. However, nearly all plants will reproduce vegetatively, i.e. by developing lateral buds which later go on to be separate plants. This process takes 4 to 6 years after which that cluster of plants may disappear. Our main stock of Spiranthes comes from North America (US and Canada) and is carried routinely across the North Atlantic by the Jet Stream and associated lower altitude winds. This explains the reason nearly all our Spiranthes are found on inland lake shores. Rain precipitates seed out of the upper atmosphere and this settles on large bodies of water, Lough Conn, Lough Cullin, Lough Allen, Lough Corrib and Lough Neagh. If the settlement conditions are good and if seeds drift onto a suitable shore (silty/sandy, sheltered, with a very gentle slope) then Spiranthes plants may emerge where they have settled many years earlier. This explains contour patterns of new orchids emerging at a fixed level above the present Summer lake level. Summer levels are normally lower than Autumn levels which is the most likely time for seeds to be washed up. At this time of year some of the hundreds of orchids we observe are developing both lateral buds and seeds. The lateral buds survive winter flooding but the seeds may not. Most years we have seen seeds they have not been fully mature and their seed pods may lie underwater for days or weeks. It is believed that such seeds will rot and for a seed to survive it needs to be released dry and be dispersed over a wide area. Spiranthes seeds are very small! At present we are seeing many seed capsules and none of these are likely to survive if they get flooded or fail to enter suitable substrate, and associate with a mycorrhizal fungus. It seems more likely that North American seed will be more viable in Ireland than our own home produced seed?

Sunshine, a clean beach with beautiful sand, people laughing… and many S. romanzoffiana

It wouldn’t appear from the photo above but there were many people here enjoying a pleasant Summer’s day. Many Spiranthes were also to be found here including the slight variants discussed above. The bright orange ‘sand’ reflects the geology of the place. In this bay 2 geological formations meet but both are limestones. To the west it is thin bedded limestone and mudstone of the Rinmore Formation and on the right hand side of this view the Ballina Formation which consists of grey limestone and thin shales. (Information courtesy of GSI.ie, the Geological Survey of Ireland. Much appreciated.)

Does substrate effect Spiranthes?

Despite the presence of large metamorphic boulders around much of the eastern shoreline the upper half of L. Conn is limestone. However the lower half below Konockmore consists mainly of grey sandstone and siltstone with a dramatic fault at Pontoon leading into the Slieve Gamph igneous rocks underlying L. Cullin. Thus we have alkaline substrate to the north and acid rocks to the south and, yet, Spiranthes occurs equally in both zones? Many orchids are lime loving but Spiranthes seems tolerant and is typically found in shale and sandstone areas (L. Allen) as well as purely carboniferous shorelines like L. Corrib. The soil that lies above is probably a more important factor in providing a safe seed bed in which both the Orchid and its associated fungal partner can grow. It seems that we can discount the geology as a possible cause for the variant plant we call ‘frilly’?

Numbers and human pressure.

Numbers were particularly good at ‘Sandy’ Bay despite it being a popular recreational area. This is a phenomenon we have seen elsewhere where people happily play and relax  and the Spiranthes grow around their busy feet. Small bushes often providing the degree of protection these delicate plants require and as long as this habitat is not disturbed or the shoreline is not heavily grazed, the orchids will survive. We put ‘sandy’ in quotes because this bright orange sand is actually marl deriving from solution of the underlying limestone and its evaporation into a soft orange powder quite different from quartz sand. It is akin to the scale that develops in kettles in hard water areas — so a very limy environment, but Spiranthes evidently likes it?
18th August

Zones E and F

The Lagoon (63) and Upper East shore (66). A return visit to check on numbers and condition.

The Lagoon:

This area was a bit disappointing today on our 3rd visit. On the 6th of August many new flowers were emerging and we felt confident that there might be many more 12 days later. Unfortunately not! Some of the old plants were visible, many had disappeared. However we were able to add to the overall count by superimposing new records on the old data where these records were clearly distinct and apart from any previous records. This brings the Final Total for the site to 63. The site was in good condition with no major damage but the culprit for missing plants seems to have been many small Deer whose footprints were everywhere. See photo RIGHT. However the site may still be releasing seeds to develop the re-populated east shore also explored today.

Wherrew Water Works and south:

A much happier picture emerged here. (We had visited this site on 13th but left all our kit at home… no GPS and no cameras!) However, a large colony was discovered on the east shore of the isthmus sticking out half a kilometre into the lake. It was a stunning afternoons work with many healthy plants and pairs and triplets and more examples of variant flowers. All pictures on this Log are from that site. This area had been good 5 to 8 years ago but orchids seemed to have almost disappeared along this shore due to small number of horses on the ground. Spiranthes flowers once yearly and if grazed will not flower again! Today there was no stock and grass was medium to long particularly around the numerous Alder bushes. Protection of this rare plant will require support for, and from, farmers in the area many of whom now seem supportive. These plants are rare (in Europe) and wonderful and it would be nice to keep them in our heritage along with the Corncrake et al!
An early stage in the development of a flower at Wherrew with slight signs of frilliness developing on the outer edges of the sepals and petals. This seems a normal part of maturing; it is the kinked stem with nodal florets that differentiates the variant?
RIGHT This specimen, while not showing distinct kinks at each node, is starting to space out the lower flowers and the lower bracts are curling above the flower. Could this later lead to the distinct angular kinks detected in the first type specimen found in L. Cullin in 2018? Images are from the same plant showing Full Plant, Flower Head and Stem and Leaves. Main leaves grow from the ground with bracts supporting individual flowers in the flower head. Small and thin leaves can also occur at mid stem. The distinction between bracts and leafs is not clear.

Evolution of lateral flowers!

In August that vegetative device this species has for propagating itself tends to come into play. They are now called lateral buds and we will have more about them in future reports, hopefully! We struggle to define and describe the feature of ‘lateral flowers’ appearing on the stem of some mature Spiranthes. They appear below the main flowering spike, sometimes well spaced below it, often at right angles to the stem, and are large and frilly flowers. In later stages some plants have been seen with very zig-zag stems with a kink originating at each lateral flower. Such specimens have not been observed yet this year but, hopefully we will come across one? The images from below are all from Wherrew on the 18th of August.
This specimen had a full spiral spike and its lateral flower is close to, but distinct, from the main inflorescence. It is a tall plant as plants that have survived the wet spell, and are benefiting from the warmer spell, tend to be. Many of the bigger plants were found close to Alder bushes though smaller and grouped specimens were also common on the more open lower shore.
Again in among grass and low bushes, this specimen was fresh and very white in the bright afternoon sun. It shows clear space and bare stem between the upper flowers and the developing lateral flower which is still held facing upwards. Of particular interest are the two props supporting it, one a bract and the other looks like a small upper leaf. The cluster of flowers above also has two props?
All these nearby plants are vigourous with a strong growth of multiple leaves. This plant has two broad empty bracts above the single lateral flower lower down. It is very interesting the  way these barren bracts curl and grow longer where there is no flower. It is not clear what is going on here and the distinction between leaf and bract is mainly based on shape with leaves being long and thin…
ABOVE: The upper shore line with Spiranthes growing on the open marl
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A classic normal almost perfect S. romanzoffiana flower
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The Lagoon… one of our favourites spots on L. Conn

We have fond memories of this place; it was one of the first areas in L. Conn where we came across a dense colony (100+) of Spiranthes. It has been well protected over the past 7 years and we are aware of only 1 instance where wandering animals did significant damage. One Botanist has written ”As this is a plant of open areas, lack of grazing and encroachment of shrubs and trees has a detrimental effect… However, the soil churned up by Deer in the photo ABOVE shows how important controlling grazing in marginal areas is to sustaining populations of this species.
+ + + 15thAugust 28thAugust
30th August

Errew Bay, Upper L. Conn.

Visited new contacts today, living on the north bay near the Priory. Spent a very interesting day with William and Shelagh. There seems to be increasing numbers of Spiranthes here solely in the north bay west of the Monastery. We are still checking numbers as this is an area where a large population might develop with a bit of conservation and protection.
It was a pleasure, walking through water and talking Spiranthes, on a cold misty day! Water level was very high (as usual) so some orchids were under water whereas other specimens were just about above it. The two photographs (RIGHT) were taken weeks apart. At the beginning of the month many plants (c. 30) emerged  Conditions were good at the time. The second image taken at the end of August in calm conditions  but after the site was flooded. It’s amazing how resilient this plant can be to adverse conditions. In their native North American habitat they seem to grow widely in drier habitats and further away from the water’s edge so they are not exposed to wave damage as occurs in all Irish locations. One wonders how they survive as well as they do when they are carried from North America and end up in the wetter West of Ireland!
15thAugust 25thAugust

D: Gortnor Abbey: L. Conn [9]

We commenced a more intensive week-long survey today from a new base adjoining L. Cullin. This is because Ireland has been enduring a long period of sustained rain with very high water levels and disappearing Spiranthes. Hopefully we will be able to access sites more rapidly and avail of any weather opportunities to get on the shore and record Spiranthes. Gortnor Abbey is at the top of L. Conn and fairly close to the next zone (E: The Lagoon). It is not an area we always cover as it has not ever provided good numbers of specimens Today much of the habitat was surveyed with a possible area further east, heading towards The Lagoon, that we were unable to reach. To the south-west of the harbour there is an area of scrub, leading into marsh and wet ungrazed pasture. In many ways the habitat looked undamaged but the area behind the harbour was too overgrown with Alder and Bog Myrtle. 3 specimens were found there but only around ‘Winter ponds’ where the brushwood was absent and the Spiranthes were able to develop in wispy yellow grass. To the east of the harbour a long stony shore passed an overgrown extensive lagoon area with our survey terminating at a small bay where another 6 specimens were found on an exposed shore. (Apologies for the lack of photographs but we were not carrying cameras because it was pouring rain!)
15thAugust 26thAugust

A: L. Cullin north

The north end of L. Cullin can be viewed as a single large bay with 3 Car Parks on the east shore and a promontory heading south from Pontoon in the middle of the lake. For Spiranthes this seems to be one zone but for surveying it is often necessary to approach it from both sides. Today the area from the middle of the section to the edge of the sandy bay leading to Drummin Car Parks was surveyed —as the areas either side of this stretch had been recorded previously. Water level was, of course, high, but the land here is hilly so most sites were accessible. The most easterly part of the shore contains very few orchids and was totally impassable due to high water and boulders. Upper Shore Specimens: (See RIGHT) Many healthy orchids were found in seemingly dry upper shore and rough pastures where they hadn’t been damaged by grazing or wave action. Some of these occurred in grassy margins up to 100m from normal water level — evidently carried far inshore during previous southerly Autumnal gales. This is not usual Spiranthes habitat but it is a feature of the L. Cullin area where sandy bays may easily merge with grassy or bouldery shores. These large orchids are often individuals and well spaced out over an area of level grass punctuated with small myrtle bushes.
LEFT A ‘happily’ flooded specimen from a bay among big boulders with calm weather and sunshine! Spiranthes can survive temporary floods well but when they are submerged for a long time or battered by waves the flower will die.

F: Sandy Bay, Cloghans and Brackwansha, east L. Conn. (See August 15th for Sandy Bay images and Survey.)

Again searching new territory… Sandy Bay had many healthy specimens but the shore north of it up to Cloghans needed to be checked. Today the whole shoreline up as far as Cloghans was walked. A very rich habitat with much to recommend it but, for some reason, no Spiranthes. Their absence was perplexing as this shore had a lot to offer… gently sloping, facing due west, not overgrown… However it was uniformly bedrock and this dictated the slope and whilst there was grass and other vegetation growing in cracks, other spaces were filled with cobbles or larger rocks with little sand or soil. That, and the possibility of a northerly drift along the shore (in a southerly wind) might work against seeds settling in this area? Brackwansha shore (to the south) is a popular fishing area with much ‘suitable’ Spiranthes habitat (sandy, shallow, sheltered, diverse and not grazed), but again no Spiranthes were found.
Mature kinky plant: ( L and R) Sandy Bay is an interesting area. It is ‘marl sand’ deriving from solution of the largely flat thinly bedded limestone sloping gently westwards. This produces marl by solution with the lake water. It is alkaline, quite orange in colour, and very fine and slippy.  Spiranthes is a species that is well known for occurring in both limey (L. Corrib)  and neutral areas (L. Allen). All its occurrences at Sandy Bay were associated with low islands among marshy or pond areas in the back strand. These seemed to provide the site for new seeds to drift onto and the habitat and conditions (pH and mycorrhiza) for the plants to grow. Very interesting! This specimen is one of many growing in a back- strand/wet area not much used for swimming and play. Spiranthes often survive well alongside people as long as their habitat is not altered  — as happened recently at L. Cullin…
31st August

Perhaps the end of 2020


Our total stands at 513… down a bit on previous years but a result which would undoubtedly have been higher if conditions had been better for both plants and observers!

Factors limiting S. romanzoffiana numbers:

1. Weather conditions were poor with some exceptions. First flowers were only found on the 20th of July at L. Cullin which is later than usual. This site is often surveyed twice as plants emerge over a long period at this near ideal site. That second survey has NOT been done yet due to severe flooding at present. 2. Related to the above, site access to many locations has been difficult. The Terrybaun Coast (Zone B) (0) was walked with difficulty today and all known locations were visited. No orchids were found and the adjoining coast (Massbrook) was only surveyed with many records underwater. 3. Habitat damage has occurred at the first Car Park at L. Cullin regarding the removal of scrub (Alder and Bog Myrtle) in breach of the Flora Protection Order. This was unfortunate as this site had 26 recorded specimens at the time of the first survey. 4. Other known sites had lesser number than in previous years (The Lagoon F). Some new locations were found but not enough to compensate for lost records.

Spiranthes spiralis: 

We do fortunately have another Spiranthes on this island. It is known as Autumn Lady’s Tresses and is also a beautiful and little known plant. [MORE] It seems anomalous that these two first cousins meet on the west coast of Mayo but have totally different ranges. Spiralis is a European and Asian plant and does NOT occur in America whence all our S. romanzoffiana come? In between our attempts to survey romanzoffiana and when they were too far underwater to be reached, it was good to explore wonderful west Mayo again. LEFT: Rare plants found included 1,000’s of Autumn Lady’s Tresses. It is abundant in some of the low grass covered sand dunes on the west side of The Mullet particularly between Cross Lake and the shore — almost as if it was arriving from across the Atlantic…. BUT IT ISN’T! Also flowering near Killala were some Autumn Gentians…


In case this is our last chance to report on Spiranthes romanzoffiana for this year we just wish to summarise and thank those who helped us… We’ll even forgive the Weather; it made life interesting! TOTAL = 482 513 (subject to revision) Places and Changes: Spiranthes was present in most of its usual haunts but uncountable in some and also found in new sites discovered; Lough Conn is a very big place! DAMAGE: Spiranthes habitat has been damaged at L. Cullin Car Park No 1 but, hopefully, this has been repaired and  shouldn’t happen again...
ABOVE A newly emerging specimen at Sandy Bay that was flooded until recently. These plants will emerge over a long period in warm conditions. Sadly now the temperature is falling, particularly at night, and other specimens will likely remain underground. However if, perchance, warmer weather returns and water level drops, we will attempt a quick review particularly of L. Cullin. (This was done on 21st September.)
Gortnor Abbey
Sandy Bay
Drummin (Car Parks)
kinkiness”   (LEFT and RIGHT) This specimen is probably the best example of a ‘jointed’ stem we have seen (or will see) this year. It is a phenomenon in late flowering specimens where petals and sepals are more clearly split and single flowers emerge down the stem at distinct angular nodes.

Further Research:

We have discussed the phenomenon of ‘lateral flowers’ resulting in kinky stems in our report of August 18th with several more clear images on that date. Being aware of this specimen we had hoped to monitor it through the process of fertilisation, seed maturation and dispersal. Sadly, water levels have prevented this and it seems unlikely (Sept 3rd) that we will get any further opportunities. To summarise the kinkiness has been seen as possibly genetic with the plant reverting to a typical ‘orchid’ pattern of a flower at each node with the resultant large bract and distinct ring at its base. However the kinkiness is not so evident as in the 2018 specimen.
Last S. romanzoffiana photographed this year in Cullin Car Park No. 3. Normally ovaries would be swelling but this plant shows no such signs…
Nature has its seasons. This plant is Spiranthes spiralis and is Ireland’s last flowering Orchid with the Early Purple Orchid being first in March!
The Errew north shore showing several early specimens. It is a typical Spiranthes habitat with a mix of open grasses, boulders and small bushes. First image is from early August when the flowers emerged and then late August when they were drowned.
Both images courtesy of Shelagh Delphyne  © ShelaghDelphynePhotography
28th Aug: 31
25th Aug: 9
Orange lines identify ‘ideal’ shores which we have surveyed but found no record this year…
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21st September

Buds & Seeds…

We introduce another Spiranthes here, the Autumn Lady’s Tresses, on our last day of 2020 Survey. S. romanzoffiana and S. spiralis both share two methods of reproduction, seeds and vegetative replication, but very different habitats. In romanzoffiana we call these lateral buds; in spiralis  they are known as rosettes. See our Strandhill Study for examples of these fast growing rosettes.
This is NOT a Spiranthes spp.

Marsh Orchid Seed / L. Cullin / 21 September.

(BELOW) This is the seed from the Marsh Orchid shown above which clearly highlights the egg capsule and the release mechanism common to many orchids. It was growing in among S. romanzoffiana. It is also very waterproof and survives into the Autumn.

Seed of S. romanzoffiana / L. Cullin / 24 August 2018.

This seed (BELOW) was collected towards the end of our best Summer (for these plants) in recent years. Seed capsules were spontaneously bursting  and dry healthy seeds were widely available.
(RIGHT and  Above Right)

Spiranthes spiralis seed / Co. Sligo / 21 September

This species is abundant on dunes near North West Mayo and NW Sligo coasts. The seeds are larger and much more numerous than S. romanzoffiana seeds; this probably reflects their ecology and reproductive habits with seeds reportedly dispersed only locally?

Reproduction by Seed:

Production and release of seed is consistent in 3 species but the survival outcome is widely different! All the flower images (except Marsh Orchid, BELOW) are of the study species, Spiranthes romanzoffiana. The micro-photographs are of seed from Marsh Orchids, Irish Lady’s Tresses and Autumn Lady’s Tresses. The S. romanzoffiana seeds are the smallest and most delicate. The seed capsule of the Marsh Orchid is clearly more robust and designed for immersion in water. These plants are largely dead when we start our Spiranthes surveys in Mayo but the stems and capsules are still sturdy as we end it… an adaptation to marsh and waterlogged habitats. The romanzoffiana capsules are never solid and seed (if present ) is prone to rotting and dying. i.e. this is a species adapted to a drier habitat and a bit out of its depth here in Ireland or Britain, even though it can be carried this far!
0.5 mm.
0.8 mm.

Dispersal of Spiranthes

seeds in Ireland and


The lightness and and delicate structure of S. romanzoffiana  seed compared to the sturdier Marsh Orchid suggest that it is wind dispersed that it can travel in the upper atmosphere for 1000’s of kilometres and is capable of resisting low temperatures on that journey. Its abundance in Ireland and Scotland reflects the first landfall on travelling across the Atlantic from its natural locations in North America. Its present scarcity in Wales may reflect the fact that Ireland may be the first mountain zone that triggers rain and releases any seed borne by Jet Stream channelled westerly winds reducing amount of seed fall in Wales? S. spiralis is abundant on our west coast but not sourced from America… perhaps Lusitanian?
1.5 mm.
Of all withered and bedraggled Irish Lady’s Tresses studied today, most had lateral buds (often 2) emerging. Some were very healthy and seemed to ensure the survival of that plant for another year.  Lateral Buds provide a welcome guarantee for a colony of S. romanzoffiana once it gets established. Such establishment, in our opinion, requires a large supply of healthy seed landing on the numerous suitable shores around these twin Mayo lakes. Of the older flowering plants most were either bedraggled and saturated or dried up and withered, with no possibility of any seeds for this year. One pair of tall plants survived in a raised and consolidated sandbank in the middle of the bay that is the focus of all our records (this time) from NE L. Cullin. Another newer plant was still in flower (LEFT) and both of these had signs of setting seed at the time of our visit. Small comfort…
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2 images showing seed capsules developing 21 Sept. and earlier on 29 July (BELOW). Marsh Orchid for comparison today…
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This concludes our record for the 2020 Spiranthes survey,

a difficult year for both plants and recorders but worthwhile. E&OE

Deer damage occurring at The Lagoon