Wednesday 21 February 2024

The Giant Orchids in Oxfordshire Revisited 20th February 2024

Last year on the 23rd March I went to see some Giant Orchids growing on a steep bank near to the border of Oxfordshire and Berkshire see here They had been found by chance the year before (2021) and it was the first time they had been recorded growing in Britain.

The secret location is, as far as anyone knows, the only place they grow in Britain although they are plentiful in southern Europe. How they came to be in such an unlikely and un prepossessing location in England is anyone's guess. It could be entirely natural or, as has been suggested the result of human intervention.

Not that it really matters to orchid afficionados.They are delighted to see them whatever their provenance and news about them and where they are to be found has rapidly spread via whispers and covert emails to anyone desiring to come and see them. Such is the world we now live in it is considered prudent to still keep quiet about the orchids and where specifically they grow for fear the plants will be uprooted or otherwise subject to interference by unscrupulous collectors. Sadly this has already happened to other rare orchids in Britain.

Giant Orchids are the earliest orchids to bloom so to see them out in March last year was not a surprise. They can emerge as early as January in southern Europe and this year the Oxfordshire ones have excelled themselves as, by the middle of this month, two flower spikes are well on the way to coming into full bloom.There are also another three plants but they are what is called blind in that they have no flower spike.

I gave Peter, who accompanied me on my visit last year, a call to alert him to their premature emergence and suggested we go to see them as soon as possible.

Arriving at the site on a grey and raw mid morning of strong wind and waterlogged ground, armed with stout sticks to assist us remaining upright on the very steep embankment where the orchids grow, we walked until we found them in very much the same place as they were last year although slightly less in number. This year they had been afforded some extra protection, as persons unknown had encircled each of the flower spikes with chicken wire to prevent rabbits nibbling them or persons inadvertently treading on them.Not that anyone in their right mind who values life and limb would venture down the precipitous bank unless they were intent on viewing the orchids. 

They were not in full bloom but well on the way, so we photographed each flower spike, one more advanced than the other, and vowed to return later when both had fully emerged.

It was not a day for hanging about as the wind on the exposed bank was both strong and cold, the sky overhead an unremitting grey and the ground wet and muddy which it seems to have been for weeks now.

The colourless wintery landscape and the rank withered grass amongst which the orchids grow rendered  the pink of the emergent flower spikes almost un-noticeable which may be no bad thing for their own protection.

Those that know will be able to find them.

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