Thursday, 3 June 2010

Monkey Business

One of the gems in the Kent countryside is the beautiful chalk grassland at Park Gate Down.

Not a huge nature reserve but a wonderful wildflower meadow. At this time of year the star attraction is the Monkey Orchid colony.

Monkey Orchid (Orchis simia)

I was probably a few days late than I should have been when I visited them today, although many of the individual flowers are still in good nick, they have lost the overall freshness that was probably evident earlier.

The individual flowers show the long arms, legs and tail that give it the name Monkey orchid. The Monkey Orchid was once far more common but many were lost to ploughing of downland. The colony at Park Gate was established in the 1960's after seed from one of the last remaining colonies, at Faversham, had been scattered. The first flowers appeared in 1965, seven years after the seed was sown, but then not again until 1976. Now they are hundreds of plants, and providing that there is no calamitous climate changes the colony should continue to expand.

I have to say that the description of a tail does seem to miss the anatomical mark to me!

A much less spectacular Orchid in the reserve is the Common Twayblade, named after the pair of leaves at the base of the stem.

Common Twayblade (Neottia ovata)

The spikes can have as many as 100 individual flowers. I watched an ichneumon fly going round one plant and I think that it is one of the pollinators, along with some Sawflies. The seeds take 15 years to produce matures plants so vegetative reproduction is probably the the most important method of maintaining a succession of plants.

No comments: