Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Roadside flower meadows

Roadside verges have often been great reservoirs of wild flowers and they certainly benefit from the tightening of the financial purse strings of local and highway authorities. There's a lot less spraying, cutting and "tidying up" than in times of plenty.

The chalky banks along the side of Upper Road, from Dover to St Margaret's is looking really good at the moment. Near to the "White Cliffs" car park there are colonies of both Pyramidal and Fragrant Orchids. The area above contained at least 60 spikes of Fragrant Orchids and they are making a striking display at the moment.
Common Fragrant Orchid (Gymnadenia conopsea)

Some of the spikes are around 15 inches tall and they have up to 40 individual flowers. Often they are similar in colour to the Pyramidal Orchids, and at first sight the individual flowers are quite similar. The spikes are less densely packed do not have the pyramidal shape.

The Fragrant Orchids here are Common or Chalk Fragrant Orchids, two other similar species occur in the UK. Formally considered sub-species genetic evidence now show them to merit specific status. The Heath Fragrant Orchid, a mainly southern species, that occurs as close as East Sussex, but as far as I know not in Kent, and the Marsh Fragrant Orchid, that according to "Harrap and Harrap" does occur in Kent.

The flowers have a very long spur, best seen in the top half open flowers above. It is here that the nectar, is held. The flowers have a sickly sweet smell, that becomes more pungent towards dusk. Visiting insects, such as Large Skippers, Six-spot Burnet and Hawk-moths and nocturnal moths, visit the flowers to sip the nectar from the spur. When they do the pollinia are fixed to the insects proboscis by a sticky substance and it is then carried to another flower by the insect. It seems that pollination in this orchid is very efficient And in addition some vegetative reproduction also takes place vi the production of additional tubers.


Susan said...

The Common Fragrant Orchids here have put on a good show this year, clearly increased in numbers on one site in particular. We apparently have all three species in the Touraine, but I've only ever seen conopsea. The Pyramid Orchids in sheltered spots have just finished here, and were magnificent for weeks. On more exposed sites they were earlier and over very quickly.

Kingsdowner said...

Glad to see that you're out and about again Tony!

The verges are maturing nicely now that they have had a few years to recover from the spraying regimes.

Both Fragrant and Pyramidal Orchids seem to be enjoying a successful summer, but Common Spotteds seem to be scarcer than usual.