Wednesday 14 June 2023

Burnt Orchids 13th June 2023

It has been a long time since I had the opportunity and indeed pleasure to see the highly attractive Burnt Orchid or Burnt tipped  Orchid. as it is also called. The last time was when I lived in Sussex over thirty years ago and I can still clearly recall going to see them growing in profusion on Caburn Hill,  part of the South Downs, near Lewes in East Sussex.

I was instantly charmed by their demure presence and attractive colouring of pink purple (burnt) tops and whiter lower flowers, this attractive combination giving rise to their name.

When Peter told me he had visited Clattinger Farm on the Gloucestershire/Wiltshire border a few days ago to see them and which resulted in a four hour marathon but ultimately successful search of hay meadows to find them, I never thought that a few days later I would be accompanying him to the same  location to see for myself but that is how it worked out.

Earlier in the day an abortive search for them at another location in Gloucestershire left us hot, tired and frustrated on yet another humid and sunny day in this prolonged spell of mediterranean weather. We abandoned our search at noon with the hardly compensating find of three Greater Butterfly Orchids and transferred to Clattinger Farm  which is part of Wiltshire Wildlife Trust's Lower Moors Reserve and consists of a lake and no less than fourteen unimproved hay meadows.

Greater Butterfly Orchid

As Peter had already found the 'burnt tips' on his earlier trip here I had the distinct luxury of not having to commence a long search but just to follow him across two very large meadows to a third. 

No its not a scarecrow but Peter my good pal indicating the orchids

Upon opening the gate to this meadow I was astounded to see hundreds upon hundreds of Southern  Marsh and Common Spotted Orchids, although many appeared to be hybrids.  Nevertheless it was a splendid sight to see the spikes of varying purple even occasionally white, growing amongst the grass.

We followed a narrow track through the grass, reluctant to encroach further on the meadow for fear of trampling the profusion of orchids and other wildflowers.

The track turned to our right and quickly terminated in a slightly trampled area and there, discretely hidden in the grass, was our first Burnt tipped Orchid, no more than, I would say, 9cms tall. Nearby were the single spikes of others, similarly concealed in the grass, some more advanced than others but all unfailingly attractive.

Burnt tips bloom in two forms, the early flowering form which is what we were viewing and that bloom from May to June, reaching between 5-10cms in height whilst a second, later form appears in July and August and grows slightly taller, from 8-15cms.The later form does not grow in the same place as the early ones but both have  identical cylindrical flower spikes and colouring.

As with much of our flora and fauna they have suffered a drastic decline in the last seventy years. Disturbance from over eager orchid enthusiasts, even collectors and lack of suitably grazed meadows have been major contributory causes to its decline as have extremes of temperature.

We took it in turns to photo these nationally scarce delights, coyly concealed amongst the burgeoning grasses and meadow flora. A true botanical gem, we counted I think, thirteen.

Gazing at these orchids, yet another natural wonder of our world, I felt a sense of achievement and my eye was drawn ever closer to examine the perfection of each tiny flower forming a column of white and deep pink.For these few minutes the world around me was absent as I concentrated on this small orchid in its unexceptional patch of the vast meadow and then fell to wondering how many other similar hidden enclaves of Burnt tip Orchids there might be in this and the other meadows. 

It would be nice to think there are others.

Forty five minutes spent admiring and photographing this small group seemed a justified expenditure of both time and sheer delight and for me brought a long awaited chance to renew my acquaintance with one of our most lovely native orchids

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