The Early Spider Orchids on the cliff top at St Margaret's are just about above ground. There are small flower heads forming, but so far they have been reluctant to come out and face the world, and with the weather as it is who can blame them.
Even at Samphire Hoe, which hosts one of the largest colonies, of this little gem, in the country they are struggling to look their best. It is still quite early, but so far the numbers look a bit lower than I've seen before and I failed to find one that was truely magnificent, that is one with six or seven flowers.
Individual flowers are pollinated by a solitary bee, Andrena nigroaenea, the pollinia attaching to the head of the bee as it attempts "pseudo-copulation". It seems that only a small proportion (up to 25%) are pollinated in this way and that self pollination may be the most successful method.
The Early Spider Orchids will continue to flower throughout May, providing the weather is OK and hopefully there are a lot more to come. According to Anne and Simon Harrap in "Orchids of Britain and Ireland" individual plants rarely live longer than three years, so self seeding is an important method of propagation.
The downs above Lydden may not have Early Spider Orchids but at this time of year another early Orchid can be found.
Much of the chalk grassland has a healthy covering off Cowslips at the moment. This has become an iconic symbol of British flora in the last few years.
Early Purple Orchid (Orchis mascula)
This is a much more widespread orchid and is found throughout the UK, and here on the downs the spikes of purple flowers, popping up among the Cowslips are a common sight.
In Harrap and Harrap it is said that they are pollinated by Bumblebees, and I was pleased to find a demonstration of this as I was looking at them today. The wind made flower photography a bit of a lottery today. It is worth taking a perspex wind shield to help mitigate the movement the wind causes, but of course I forgot to put it in the car. Well to be honest I hadn't realised how windy it was until I was trying to get a picture without too much shaking, on this windswept hill side!