This is the start of a new Series allowing update of Numbers and Distribution on a yearly basis. i.e. Survey Counts and/or Maps… The first group Page includes a selection of rare/uncommon/local orchids and plants found in the  area. The WhiteOrchidGroup   focuses on a surprisingly large and diverse series of orchids found around our Home place i.e Roscommon, Sligo, Donegal, Leitrim and Mayo. It is a coincidence — or maybe it isn’t — that these rare and remote orchids are all coloured white. They also, along with a wider range of orchids, are mainly lime loving and occur mainly on karst limestone topography either exposed or under shallow soil or peat. Each year we will (we hope) report on the distribution, abundance, safety and success of these rather unusual Orchids which happen to grow around us. By and large, they are well protected; their habitats are undisturbed, we know where to find them and how to monitor and protect them with the help of local landowners who are supportive and protective of these rarer parts of our Biodiversity. Why are they white? Maybe because they generally are found in remote locations. Their colour will attract fertilising insect species and plants are less likely to be damaged or collected in areas of low population or difficult access. Other orchids with brightly coloured flowers tend to occur in among other species such as the Bee Orchid, Marsh Orchids and Early Purple Orchids. Fragrant Orchids also, are brightly coloured and have a very strong smell immediately detected when you are close by. This distinguishes them from Common Orchids and they also can be shorter and only emerge from grasses, rushes, bushes etc.  That leaves this bunch of very white species which one might think to be vulnerable. The most vulnerable species in the collection is the Greater Butterfly Orchid — which has evidently declined in traditional locations following further grazing on lowland hills. Once eaten, this species may not regrow again!
CLICK IMAGE where you see this Icon.
Waterlevel DATA:       Spiranthes romanzoffiana in Co. Mayo, Ireland re. flooding in the area! Flooding is now declining but too late for a recovery of Irish Lady’s Tresses. (7th September 2023)

White ORCHID group: 2023




We have gathered a closely related group of rare plants found in a particular part of North West Ireland. These are all Orchids and happen to be white flowering plants. WHY do all these rare orchids happen to be WHITE! Also, apart from the Greater Butterfly Orchid, they are  mostly small.
Management & Conservation: To secure these sites they need to be watched during the growing season, seed production, and as flowers are dying back. This yearly cycle will repeat as long as the flowering and seed production process is undisturbed. If the land is tilled or cut too early these biodiverse plants will quickly die. Orchids produce just 1 flower each year!  
These plants occur in the Bricklieves, Kesh Mountain, Killeglan in S. Roscommon, Mountains and other undisturbed areas. They can be seen flowering abundantly. Some, like the Greater Butterfly Orchid are spectacular but may disappear suddenly when active grazers are introduced to their traditional wild habitat. But, many people also guard them.

Why white?

Occur in rough high ground!

But may become extinct if more high ground is lost?

This species is a Special One for Ireland being found in North America, Ireland and Scotland only. It is widespread in US and Canada; this is their native territory with, certainly, some of the Irish population being established from seeds blown across the Atlantic by upper level winds. It is a beautiful plant with a long flowering season (normally) from July to September. This can be thwarted by early Summer flooding as, for all practical purposes, this is a lake shore plant typically occurring within 10 - 20cm in vertical range above the local lake. Unfortunately, this year was one of Summer flooding starting from 16th July and continuing until end of August. All plants in Loughs Conn, Cullin and Levally have been drowned during this period. STATS: In the period from plants emerging to the start of flooding 330 specimens were quickly recorded around the 3 lakes we studied. In the second half of July, water invaded until September, when 3 specimens were again recorded. These plants were barely alive and any seed capsules (ovaries) were collapsed and contained no seed. Some seed may possibly have been released earlier but we weren’t able to record any. Last year (2022) was a very good year with widespread placement of seed all around the area so future prospects are good..
The cluster of orchids seen above (and 1 single early flower) were recorded from Strandhill , Co. Sligo where about 100 specimens were noted. There were 10 specimens in the cluster probably produced by vegetative budding. There can be much higher numbers here and at other sites like the dunes on the west side of Belmullet where they occur by the 1000’s in suitable conditions. An Interesting feature… This species has a patchy distribution in Ireland and otherwise occurs in England and Wales. It is a very similar plant to romanzoffiana but has a different and amazing distribution. We have only recently become aware that this plant has a semi-global distribution occurring from the west of Ireland to the higher Himalayas and found through southern Europe, the Middle East, India and Pakistan. How they establish themselves in such remote, cold and barren areas, relates to similarity of the species with other Spiranthes genus. Both ‘Irish’ species rely on wind dispersal, one from America to Ireland and the other from Ireland to Asia! Ireland is the sole location where both occur together.
Butterfly Orchids There are two species, the Lesser and the Greater Butterfly Orchid, which we study here. Some are found on a distinct promontory pointing south about 1km. SE of Kesh Corran peak. This species is, however, influenced by  grazing in 3 different locations, the area (above) being secure and stable at present. 5km SE of Kesh Corran there is a Water Storage facility at Ballinafad (54.0355, -8.3599) There is a large green sloping strip here lwhere large numbers of Platanthera chlorantha occurred before a few horses took over the area. Now none survive! This species is so vulnerable because of its size, so attractive to grazing animals, and very easily detected. At low-level between L. Key and the Sligo Road (N4) a dedicated farmer has set her land aside for several months in the Spring/Summer to protect the species. This has yielded contin- uous high count numbers in a small area. The Greater Butterfly can occur in great numbers and provides a magnificent display. The larger species opens earlier and lasts longer than the Lesser Butterfly Orchid and a good specimen can be recognised from 0.5km across the hills.
The Small White Orchid is threatened and every year we see many open pastures that are grazed right at the start of the grazing season. It is a beautiful small orchid, very thin and upright, which can survive in small herbage or stand tall in open fields where they are more at risk to stock release onto the hills in May. A secure Habitat: Fortunately, these orchids have some friends in the Bricklieve Mountains where every year cattle are withdrawn and allow this species to flourish, set seed, and fade away undamaged. The numbers at this site, consequently, are steady or increasing — as are the Greater Butterfly Orchids at the same site. This species can flower abundantly in mild weather but the hot early Summer of 2023 dried up many specimens — though some did recover with later cooler damper weather. The population should recover as they are undisturbed, abundant, and seen to produce much seed over many years. Thus, they can easily repopulate other upland sites in Roscommon and other areas. Like other orchids this species will spend some years developing underground before they are able to produce a flower.
The Dense-flowered Orchid is the earliest flowering orchid of this bunch of White Flowered Orchids. We were happy to find and record this species in an SAC in south Roscommon. Springs and Sumps: A specific niche of springs (circular cones of rock and grassland) and sumps in limestone keeps this species happy. These sites can be very exposed, hot, and full of sharp-edged fractured limestone upland. Take care! Typically this SAC site can yield varying results (from 1 - 62) The first time we met them was as we were leaving the site via a dried up floodway heading into an underground sump. This was in 2019 when we were completing a detailed search for Green-winged Orchids. (abundant that year) but we had finished our search and were heading away when in the middle of the dry channel heading under- ground we spotted this plant we hadn’t realised occurred there! They also occur in Fermanagh, Donegal, west Galway and Roscommon. Their numbers vary dramatically depending on weather and water features. The roadside site that yielded our first Dense-flowered only had 1 specimen and we had to wait another year for more...
2021 all sites surveyed 775  2022 long dry Summer with no flooding 666  2023 3 wks from 11th July then flooded 371 -
A plant of windy hills often hidden in high grass but having impressive short-lived spikes and curved stem as it searches light. Loves these gentle foothills of northwest Ireland. A rare plant that comes and goes quickly.
ABOVE: Pinkish form of species. RIGHT: Standard white form with hints of cream but no clear markings At the Killeglan SAC both forms are present and we can see no clear habitat selection between them. More obs. needed!
2021  Seen by Roadside sump. 19 May 1 plant! 2022 Killeglan site explored. 10th May 61 2023 17th & 21st May TOTAL = 60
Images from south Roscommon, grazed in Winter but protected from Spring onwards for this and other species. Hard site to survey with very small initial buds and flowers often sheltered by rocks or thorn bushes on the edge of water or dried up drains.
Irish Lady’s Tresses Spiranthes romanzoffiana Greater Butterfly Orchid Platanthera chlorantha Small-white Orchid Pseudorchis albida FIRST: Dense-flowered Orchid Neotinea maculata Autumn Lady’s Tresses Spiranthes spiralis + + + + +
2021 KeshCarrowkeelMainand subSite 171  2022 Kesh SE 11/18th June. S facing slopes. 148 2023 Kesh SE slopes JUNE = 211
2022 Doon Shore (private site) 3rd July 142 2023 Doon Shore 17/28 June 101 (dry conditions) 2023 Kesh (SE slopes)  JUNE = 1267
2021 many in dunes at Strandhill and Belmullet 2022 numerous over Strandhill 300-400 est.  2023 Strandhill c. 176, W. Mayo 1000’s  -