Wednesday 3 July 2024

Pyramids in Gloucestershire 2nd July 2024

Well it was back to normal this morning as the weather reverted to being grey and chilly, courtesy of low cloud and a northerly airflow. July is traditionally said to be the hottest month of the year but not today that's for sure.

Thankfully my current obsession with orchids is unaffected by the weather.Unlike butterflies they remain obvious and detectable even in the worst of weather.This morning I made a relatively short journey to The Cotswold Water Park in neighbouring Gloucestershire in search of a variant of what still is a widespread and locally common orchid, the Pyramid Orchid. 

I can do no better than quote from David Lang's excellent book 'Britain's Orchids' in which he writes:

'It is a robust colonist and can add a welcome splash of colour to roadside verges,abandoned quarries and even industrial wasteland.'

Today hopefully I would get my first ever sight of the rare alba (white) form of this beautiful orchid.

I was following up a lead given to me by Duncan that directed me to a rather unlikely orchid  location by a roundabout on an intersection of the A419. Between this busy road and another lay an area of undisturbed grassland you could almost call it waste ground that has been either ignored or deliberately left by Gloucester Highways Dept to grow unrestricted, and here, un-remarked and to a greater extent un-noticed, lay a veritable treasure trove of Pyramid Orchids amongst waist high grass.

And not just orchids but a wealth of other flora lurked amongst the waving stems of grass. Drifts of hazy blue meadow cranesbill, white oxe eye daisies with egg yolk coloured centres, yellow hawkbit and ragwort, clover both white and red were here in abundance. No one else was likely to venture here unless they knew. Cars passed alarmingly fast and close by me as I stood at the margin of this delight.

I was pleased that no one would come here to destroy this habitat.But here is the sad part - it is only in forgotten pockets like this or nature reserves with habitat carefully and artificially maintained  that much of our natural flora can now thrive. Many roadside verges are still mown unnecessarily, turning the natural into sterile anonymity.

Even amongst all this hidden beauty lay the less appealing evidence of uncaring humanity with discarded drinks cans, an empty coke bottle and discarded sandwich wrappers thrown needlessly from passing vehicles into the grass.Out of sight and out of mind.

Averting my eyes from this disgrace to the overwhelming presence of so many Pyramid Orchids was a joyful and welcome diversion.And what superb specimens they were. I have never seen larger, more  magnificent specimens. Inches tall magenta cones of flowers, each pulsing with intense colour, crowning a single green stalk and in such profusion.There must have been in excess of a hundred and fifty plants here.

But where to park the car to access the grassland in what was after all a hostile and intimidating location for anyone on foot?  There was nowhere apparent but circumventing the roundabout in my car for a second time I found a small lane adjacent to the orchid area where I could leave the car, somewhat precariously, on a bare patch of earth away from passing vehicles.

Retrieving my camera from the car I walked back to the busy road and set about searching, on the near  side of the road, a narrow strip of scrubby grass and found a wealth of normal pyramids but not a sign of any alba specimens.

Logic told me they must be on the larger area of grassland on the other side of the road.At least that is what I hoped

I waited until it was safe to cross the road as a huge truck passed at speed within feet of me.

Wading into the high grass I marvelled at the profusion of Pyramid Orchids and their magenta pink heads   but although a magnificent sight I was unable to appreciate them fully until I found the true prize -the white examples that I had been told about.

White Pyramid Orchids are rare and hard to find so I was keen to locate them and set about searching the grass. Again normal pyramids were here in abundance, they seemed to be everywhere but where were the white ones?

Near to the road in a small depression I finally found the large head of a pure white Pyramid Orchid.Unmistakeable and such a delight to see. Close by were others although not many.I counted ten.That was more than sufficient.

The flower head on the first one I had discovered was easily the finest. A fat and fulsome tower of pure white flowers more cylindrical than pyramid shaped and contrasting with its more populous magenta coloured neighbours.

An absolute beauty and as with anything new, exciting to see.

I wandered around this small area but could find no more so left the orchids in their unlikely roadside sanctuary and rewarded  myself with a coffee and brownie at a nearby cafe.

What a pleasant and fulfilling morning.

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