Spellbound by Orchids

common spotted orchids
Common spotted orchids on the Roadside Nature Reserve just across the road from my office. It is spectacular in July; even driving past you can see the pink flower spikes of the orchids.

When I was growing up, I thought that orchids were exotic flowers, beloved of Victorian ladies in glasshouses and native only to tropical rainforests. It was a revelation to discover that they are found worldwide and that my home county of Kent held more varieties than anywhere else in the UK.

You have to look more closely to appreciate the flowers of our native orchids, but once you do, you will find that they are every bit as enchanting as the showy specimens you might buy from a florist.

bee orchid by Steve Weeks
Pollen poised to rub off onto the back of any bee that visits this Bee Orchid (image © Steve Weeks, Kent Wildlife Trust)

The complexity of orchid flowers is due to their intricate relationships with insects, the structures having evolved to tempt insect visitors, sometimes even luring them with the false promise of a mate, in order to achieve pollination.

Darwin was fascinated by the evolutionary relationship between orchids and insects and it is thought that Kent Wildlife Trust’s Downe Bank nature reserve is the Orchis Bank he used to visit to study this phenomenon and that he immortalised in the conclusion of the Origin of the Species.

Although I didn’t need to leave Kent to try out the next of The Wildlife Trusts’ Top UK Wildlife Experiences, traveling in the north of the U.K. gave me the chance to see some species I’d not come across before, and practice my budding botanical skills.

 

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