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SPRING and Summer orchids in NW Ireland: 2022: June already and this is our first page of the year. Not that it hasn’t been a rewarding year to date but it has been complicated with the breakdown of PEACE in east Europe with the resulting pain for our Ukrainian neighbours, not to mention the costs and loss of prosperity all across Europe and farther afield. There is much beauty in the World and the cruelty of war is an unnatural aberration _ WHICH WILL END. We seek to highlight the beauty of Nature and our Landscapes and our seasonal collection aims to reflect these normal beautiful things. In this case… We portray the great variety of one group of plants encountered in Roscommon and Sligo — the Orchids — and other nearby areas. It is an area under-recorded botanically but there is much to see and study here. For the moment we will simply present a catalogue of plants, their names and where they may be found. Doubtless there will be more ‘proper research’ to come as the year evolves!
BELOW Early Purple Orchids Orchis mascula
 BELOW A Narrow Leaved Helloborina (Cephalanthera longifolia from Donegal. It grows in woodlands and wood edges and is is beautiful when encountered unexpectedly
Why photograph Orchids? There are many reasons but mainly because they come and then they go, creatures of the brightening Summer. Ireland is blessed with considerable variety, though lesser numbers than Britain or Europe. But we have some beautiful species, some common, and some very rare. Recording these will help sustain their population and distribution. People come to Ireland not knowing what they can find here; we help them. Our seasons are bracketed between March and September when the 20 or so Irish species emerge, flower, reproduce and then largely disappear — though their signs can be seen in close cut sward for much of the year.
The  Dense-flowered Orchid is a super rarity, found on the west coast from Clare to Donegal. Living in Co. Roscommon and having seen it here once before, we wanted to establish their presence in the rough tumbled water fissured landscape of wilder parts of south and west Roscommon — landscape similar to The Burren in Co. Clare where the plants is more widely known. One specimen in 2021, then 11, 34 and 18 in 2022 leading to a final total of 61 of these plants recorded in the rough semi-desert landscape of this largely karst SAC. Amazing little plants growing in a wilderness where cattle are fed in Winter but which is free for the Orchids (and their botanists) to explore the following Summer. They are self-fertilising and flower only briefly. One week there are 61, ten days later they are gone. Mid May is their time. This rare plants distinctive needs: The Dense Flowered ‘homeland’ is The Burren’s bare rock. It occurs in other lime based areas such as calcareous (shelly) dunes in west Donegal and in the Roscommon strongholds (RIGHT) where the bare karst is less exposed than in The Burren. It seems this rarity may be found in many more ‘difficult’ sites that just need to be investigated.

Flowering in early Spring, these two variably coloured Orchids, once common and abundant in small hilly pastures on limestone or glacial hilly fields are now declining as these plants don’t like change. Mowing a pasture, ploughing and re-seeding, fertilise with artificial fertiliser… all will change the nutrient value of these little fields and remove their traditional diversity. The esker ridges and drumlins found in the flat limestone country of the Irish Midlands  of the heart of Ireland will also be used and altered and changed. They occur in a great variety of colours but the green veins in their upper petals are nearly always visible to give them their name as the Green winged Orchid (aka. Green veined). They are very much associated with limestone soil conditions and associated ground up rock deposits (many of limestone origin) forming the small hills and long pathways that traverse the many, otherwise flat, areas of the Midlands. A widespread species in the past when many small farms and small herds made up the livelihood of Ireland’s traditional farming. When fertiliser became cheap and animals became more valuable, great changes took place in Ireland and there was little or no place for a delicate little flower in among the richer pasture and the ever more intensive farming. But, they do survive in remote places not suitable for machinery or re-seeding with every more ‘productive’ rye grass. Strangely, at this time, both fuel and fertiliser used to ‘improve’ came in large volumes from Ukraine…

Green-winged Orchid Anacamptis morio (ABOVE)

The Marsh Orchids Dactylorhiza spp

Another zone for colonies is a spring defined by a grassy mound and a stony peak (RIGHT). There is a notable knoll largely covered on the lower slopes. Around this, and other small peaks  groups of Dense Flowered orchids seem to occur. Water appears to emerge on the flanks of these hillocks and 2 such sites yielded the greatest number of specimens found! Water emerges here, wet area. <---- SPRING

ABOVE and RIGHT: 3 early Beauties:

One common, one rare, and one local but where it occurs it may be plentiful. This cluster of the ubiquitous was Early Purple chosen for the variety of colours and their attractive location between Hawthorn and underlying limestone formation. RIGHT The beautiful helleborine is found locally near water in Donegal and Galway but otherwise is very hard to locate. The 2 pretty Green Winged orchids flower  with and at the same time as the Early Purples and are very common.
2022/1 A Collection of Spring Orchids _ all from around where we live. This is intended to promote the value of such places, habitats and our Biodiversity. Just an Introduction; later we will report more!

D. pulchella

D. incarnata

This group and the following two banners show variations within the incarnata group

Oddbods — with no Markings

Two specimens from L. Gara, and one from L. Talt, all of which are characterised by an absence of spotting on the flowers.
Marsh Orchids are a complex group within the Dactylorhiza. There are numerous locations for them around our base in the north west of Connacht. There are many defined species within the group and within some these species there are many varieties — particularly in colour. It is a full time job to identify these varieties accurately. We are planning to show some defined sub-groups and their colour variations and their locations and numbers below. There are three well-defined clusters in the area… D incarnata,  D. pulchella, and D. coccinea, though some of these may be regarded as varieties.
These four are typical specimens within the group. The characteristics they share are… long narrow green leaves with a pronounced keel and hooked at the tip in mature specimens… an equally tall flowering stem green at the base but reddening further up and perhaps hollow… Bracts are red or suffused with red. The labellum, depending on how you look at it, can be described as being diamond-shaped or long and narrow. This is due to the labellum drooping at either side of a central ridge, and at the tip. This group is typically found around the flat, or gently sloping, margins of shallow lakes, often seen in high vegetation through which the orchids emerge in late May or June. Some interesting colour variants do occur, including pure white?

Some very early Ones:

Green Winged Orchids and Autumns Lady’s Tresses!

Liberty & Justice for Ukraine. . .  PLEASE!

The wondrous world of Nature often stuns us. Things can be ugly and things can be beautiful. All elements of our diverse world are here for a purpose. The two small orchids (RIGHT) are freshly emerging from a rough stony pasture. These can be the first flowering orchid in Ireland but they compete regularly with the Early Purple Orchids which are very common and very beautiful. The Green Winged Orchids are frequent in favoured locations but now disappearing from much of Ireland as farming industrialises throughout the land. The Early Purple Orchids (Orchis mascula) also come in a range of colours but are always bright and balanced by an upturned spur behind the flower whereas the similar looking plants (RIGHT) have a downward pointing spur clearly visible in purple and white. That and the green stripes on the Green Winged Orchids separate them from their commoner ‘cousin’. Both species occur in a range of colours and enjoy diverse but shaded habitats from broad-leaf forests to pastures to rocky places where they can stand out very proud. Cephalanthera helleborines: The Narrow-leaved Helleborine is in a sub-group of Orchids. It is rare and sporadic around Ireland but with good numbers this year.
These Autumn flowering plants produce small rings of large leaves over Winter until the Spring, producing energy for their roots which will support flowering at the end of Summer.  Not pretty but interesting and numerous!
In its habitat in a Wood beside a lake, this species is very local but at home here and other places in  Ireland. CLICK to enlarge the image BELOW

Dense flowered Orchid, Neotinea maculata and its local Habitats

CONSERVATION and RARITY

We are pleased to say that after several days of difficult research we have now established that this species and this locality is a probable additional viable conservation area for this species — with Special Conversation Area status as a crucial aid. Because of the delicacy and rarity of these plants we have submitted details and a distribution Map to the NPWS for this species at Killeglan. Essentially all records occurred in 5 locations two of them being for single individuals. In Killeglan they are associated with peaks and valleys (like the ones above). These seem to represent Springs and drainage Sumps in the limestone base. And, of course, most orchids thrive on an alkaline substrate. We will follow up on this work in coming years. The SAC status is valuable to the survival of this species. In Winter cattle are fed from the roadside and often stay nearby because of the rugged and difficult terrain. The removal of cattle in the Spring and Summer allows the orchids (and there are many various species) to thrive. Further protection may be offered under the new ACRES scheme launching next year.

Dune and Sandy area Orchids

The 3 species below, Bee Orchid, Pyramidal Orchid and Frog Orchid would typically be orchids of warm sandy sites — though the Frog Orchid also grows at some height on Kesh Mountain near the Small White Orchid location. They all flower around the May/June period and are all very distinctive and attractive with memorable names. Photographs were taken in the Roscommon/Sligo areas.
Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera Normally abundant at this time of year but a combination of late frosts and drought have seriously impaired the growth of these specimens. Many of the Bee Orchids in May had only 1 flower and leaves and other buds were evidently damaged by frost. Consequently we have taken the opportunity to show again the complicated self-fertilising process these orchids have… The example below is of a struggling Bee Orchid with only 1 flower.
Pyramidal Orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis These orchids have been less impacted by weather and are now (June) coming up in their thousands in Strandhill. A simple flower structure with a tri-lobate unspotted lip combined with their appearance in dense groups on a sunny bank or sandy grassland makes these orchids a real Summer species and a joy to behold.
Frog Orchid (BELOW)actlorhiza viridis It may be named after its habit of suddenly appearing around the edges of shallow pools? With a cryptic colour they can blend into the background at the early stages of growth. At the end of June they become taller and the exquisite detail of their green and pink flowers becomes obvious. An attractive species that can occur in large groups.. it also grows on a rocky path on Kesh Mountain.

Two other marginal and Vulnerable species…

Both of these orchids are local and perhaps under-recorded. They both have very select needs and can occur in large numbers in suitable and undisturbed habitats.
Small White Orchid Pseudorchis albida Found in its best numbers in Co. Sligo just north of the Roscommon border on the south eastern flanks of Kesh Mountain. Three known sites occur here but only one regularly has surviving specimens. One site has cattle excluded during much of the crucial flowering period. It is an SAC but exclusion of grazing is not specified — though it seems like the land is being managed with the interest of Small Whites (as well as Greater Butterfly Orchids) in mind. Up to 120 specimens have been logged from here; that is more than ever recorded in the area, as far as we know.
Birds Nest Orchid Neottia nidus-avis Very much dependent on 100 year old Oak trees starting to rot. This is a non-photosynthesising species that consequently needs little light but derives its nutrients from mycorrhizal associations resourced from the rotting stumps and roots of old Beech tree. Can be very attractive especially when glimpsed in periodic flashes of sunlight. Numbers in Lough Key Forest Park have declined a bit this year but a second smaller colony is developing well. Other local areas have proved fruitless due to, we suspect, a cold  wet early Spring. It can occur anywhere there are rotting Beech trees and mycorrhizal partner (Sebacina dimitica) and Flies and ants to disperse seeds. Further information can be found HERE (with thanks to The Wiley Online Library and the New Phytologist). Many thanks to them for granting Free Access. It’s a fascinating history! Lough Key Forest park seems to have been planted with Beech in the 1800s and the trees are now starting to fall in the stormy Winter that has just ended. The 2022 season has been varied in many ways, wet, dry, cold, windy, occasionally warm. A very unusual Summer; perhaps this is having an impact on the many agents involved in the emergence of flowers, fertilisation, and re-distribution. Diptera cited in the article above could support wider distribution of seed?
Seed Development: After the bud is fully opened the rostellum is positioned over the main part of the flower including the Stigma. The pollinia develop inside the cup and then swing down to insert pollen into the stigma. Very often 1 pollinia at a time follows this procedure. When the pollinia is placed development of the seed proceeds in a swelling ovary (not visible here).
Anther cup Pollinia (1 fertilising) Labellum (petal) Appendix  Rostellum Sepals Stigma Petal Pseudo-eyes
RIGHT Frog Orchid HABITAT Occurs in wo dissimilar Habitats in Co. Sligo. i) dispersed in hollows in calcareous Sand dune bottoms at Strandhill ii) on an old path on Kesh Mountain amongst bedded and loose Bricklieve limestone.
Typical habitat, dead Beech, dry Beech litter on forest floor, near edge with good drainage.

D. coccinea

All the Marsh Orchids (BELOW) were photographed in the Sand Dunes at Strandhill, Sligo, on the 20th June 2022. We have been looking for good examples of “coccinea” but it is hard to find these inland as they seem to thrive in coastal calcareous dune bottoms along with the Frog Orchid, Bee Orchids and Pyramidal Orchids. These specimens have been identified  by low stature, very deep brick red colour, the flat lozenge shape of the unopened buds, and their association with flat inner dune habitats with evident calcareous deposits. Many of these plants were just emerging from dense low-lying foliage typical of damper borders or areas. (CLICK for larger Images.)
A group from a large field of purple orchids on the north west shore of L. Gara. Of these, the following 3 seem to identify as D. pulchella (or D. incarnata var. pulchella) from reading the most expert and recent publications. The identification of these specimens is backed up by growing positions —  where they are always found on the edge of tussocks and not in clear ground or drainage channels used by most of the other (incarnata) orchids in this very flat area evolving from enclosed good quality meadows to rough grassland with rocks and associated marl. These specimens were fewer in number than the nominate incarnata plants but stood out because of their position, their height and their sturdy nature. Photographs were taken on 1st June 2022.
This beautiful plant recently emerging from the edge of a tussock shows many of the the typical characteristics.. Colour is variable as it was a day of rapid change from bright sunshine to dark clouds. Leaves were unmarked but sturdy and strongly keeled. This image is one of the nicest in the Marsh Orchids.
Another mature specimen growing nearby shares many of the characteristics of its neighbours and family but as it matures  the flowers seem larger and thinner, the labellum appears longer and starting to droop at the edges. The pattern of dots are very clearly fenced in on each lip.. but the sepals do curve forward over the upper petal more clearly than incarnata spp.
A slightly more advances specimen again from the upper shore and rooted in a tussock — so moist but not saturated. Leaves are growing fast, straight, and close to the stem. No sign of lobes on the diamond shaped heavily speckled labellum.
A note on TAXONOMY or Plant Nomenclature: You will notice, with Marsh Orchids in particular (but all plants in general), that the technical name can be either two words or three words. In Britain in particular the tri-nomial system is dominant whereas the same species in the EU is frequently described just in two words, often latin/greek based. For example, Dactylorhiza incarnata is the EU (European) format whereas in Britain it would be D. incarnata incarnata.  The last name defines the plant as a sub-species or a variety within the main group. The EU system confers species status on D. pulchella whereas the GB system confers subspecies status on the same plant and call it D.i. pulchella ? In the British (Kew)  system Dactylorhiza pulchella will be described as D. incarnata pulchella, or D. i. pulchella or D.i. var pulchella
Dactylorhiza pulchella: This early flower from L. Gara in Co. Sligo is significant for an absence of any typical marsh orchid markings on its labellum. It is a small detail but seems uncommon among the Marsh Orchids. Otherwise it growth and habitat are typical of the pulchella  variety.
Dactylorhiza incarnata: A pair of unmarked twins from L. Gara seem to be from another tribe, i.e. D. incarnata. Some of the flowers show the typical way this species has of holding the upper sepals vertical over the labellum. This colour, also, typical of  D. incarnata
Orchis mascula: This is an Early Purple orchid from a small scattered group of these non Marsh Orchid species found at L. Talt. It is also much too late for this species to be emerging — 2 months too late! Apart from having no markings this plants has a very unusual appearance. Close study of the centre flower shows the spur clearly hanging downwards with the labellum (whitish) pointing upwards. i.e. these flowers have not fully rotated but we have other later images showing the spur clearly curved upwards — the typical arrangement for Early Purple Orchids. (This specimen is not a Marsh Orchid!)
Spotted Orchids… Common Spotted Orchid, D. fuchsii Lough Talt
Albino D. fuchsii Annaghmore Lake
Heath Spotted Orchid, D. maculata Lough Talt
End of first half 2022: These 4 images more or less conclude a delayed view of Spring orchids around the North West of Ireland. Following soon will be another collection of later Orchids and their habitats, including the beautiful and rare, Irish Lady’s Tresses Spiranthes romanzoffiana and the elusive Bog Orchid Hammarbya paludosa… if we can find it?
Twayblade Neottia ovata Annaghmore Lake, Co. Roscommon
HABITAT ANALYSIS: Annaghmore Lake (Marl Lake) is a very shallow reed bordered warm lake (in Summer) with extensive marl deposits in the shallow floor of the lake and along the shorelines where we found the Twayblade (RIGHT) and and a very attractive albino version  (LEFT) of Common Spotted Orchid. Marl Lakes are akin to inland versions of calcareous habitats. i.e their alkaline quality comes from underlying limestone in these flat lands of central Ireland as opposed to shelly coastal deposits. But whatever way it develops the limey substrate is hugely attractive  for a wide variety of Orchids. The Fly and Bee Orchid used to occur here also.
BELOW Autumn Lady’s Tresses Spiranthes spiralis
Killeglan Habitat. Killeglan is spectacular; rough, gently hilly with some green fields but largely dominated by tall thick rock walls and mounds where people in the past have sought to improve land usage. But now, in these times, as we are becoming a rich country it is appropriate to set aside places like this so that rare and distinctive plants and animals can survive now as they did centuries ago. We have plenty of room for Biodiversity as well as Farming.
This is a sump — a hollow in the largely flat landscape, where water drains away underground. Such flows are a significant factor on this site and may distribute seeds to other habitats further away. This is the edge of the site and beyond this large flat fertile fields take over before reaching the R. Suck callows and the Shannon river itself, all well known conservation areas for birds and other wildlife. The main road passing the SAC is to the east of this location. Winter feeding of cattle takes place there and the site shown seems little disturbed either in Winter or Summer. It is evident that this land in many places is too rough for even the hardiest of cattle and they seem to stay close to the feeding station at the roadside. This meets both livestock and biodiversity needs as any areas trampled are limited in size and quickly recover when the cattle are taken off in Summer.
There are 7 specimens in this photograph (ABOVE) but they are hard to see.
<----Water SUMP It is rare to find individual plants. We have only found 2 solitary specimens and the majority of records come from defined hydraulic structures such as shown here… Water drains away, dry area.
Another  view of a less damaged Bee Orchid taken in 2017 growing alongside traffic on the N4 Sligo Road!
 (Click on these Images to enlarge.)
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