Looking for a man!

OK, I couldn’t resist that title …. but it really should read man orchid (Orchis anthropophora, recently changed from Aceras anthropophorum on DNA evidence).

The man orchid is a UK native, hardy orchid, which favours sunny conditions on free-draining, calcareous grassland. Luckily for me, there is an abandoned chalk quarry at the edge of the village that has become a haven for several different kinds of hardy orchids, including this very species.

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Track down the edge of the old chalk quarry

I have a flag in my head that labels June/July as the time to go to the quarry looking for these orchids, but last year I was disappointed to see that the only sign of the man orchids were their spent flower spikes. I was just too late. So this time I went a month earlier and can happily report that there were loads to see. (The other types were there too, but are only just starting to extend their heads really.)

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Man Orchid, Orchis anthropophora

As you can guess from their name, this orchid’s flower is humanoid in shape. The flower spikes can get relatively tall (20 – 40cm) and are packed with as many as 50 little green hooded or helmet-ed man figures dangling directly from the stalk. In fact, the local examples show a very strong tendency to purple edgings, which exaggerates a certain warrior-like hooded appearance:

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Bit of fun showing the hooded man-like appearance of the flowers

Looking at the flowers closely it becomes clear that the flowers are actually growing upside down and looking side on to the flower it is possible to see the twisted ovaries.

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Twisted ovaries and upside down flowers

So here are a few photos from the quarry. Enjoy!

 

 

 

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Wordless Wednesday – Wild Hybrid Creation

I love it when this happens …

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Tragopogon x mirabilis, a naturally occurring hybrid between Salsify and Goat’s-Beard, complete with mating fruit flies and swollen-thighed beetle

Tragopogon pratensis (Goat’s-Beard) x Tragopogon porrifolius (Salsify) -> T. x mirabilis

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Salsify, Tragopogon porrifolius, aka the Oyster Plant

+

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Goat’s-Beard, Tragopogon pratensis

Mixed in a field = >

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Hybrid Tragopogon x mirabilis

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Beardy relatives of the Tragopogon kind

The Tragopogon x mirabilis hybrid is fairly rare in southern England and is not generally seen elsewhere in GB. It rarely persists since it has low levels of fertility (and it has been a couple of years since I last saw it in the meadow).

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Honey lilies – A sweet moment in the year

This week the honey lilies (Nectaroscordum siculum) have broken out of their pale papery calyces en masse and are making a wonderful display in our shady front garden.

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Before this happened the florets were tightly wrapped in upright bundles and looked rather like candles on an altar.

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But now the bell-shaped flowers are free to hang down and spread out as soft green and pink-blushed umbrellas.

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And if you look up into the flowers the petals almost look hand-painted with cerise and maroon brush strokes.

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With the sun behind them (yes, I am on my knees here), they shine like stained glass windows or murano glass jewellery.

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They are even more delectable with rain drops clinging to the petals:

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The bumblebees adore them, but I more or less gave up trying to photograph their swift visits to the beautiful bells because I couldn’t get the camera to focus on the bees quickly enough. Here are a couple of slightly out of focus attempts:

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Interestingly the bees seem to revisit flowers very quickly, so maybe the nectar replenishes immediately?

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Do they have a down side? Well, they are alliums and one of their common names is Sicilian honey garlic, so yes they smell very oniony when brushed or crushed, but mostly you won’t smell this (it is nothing like the strong, unsolicited stink of Imperial lilies for instance!).

If they are happy, they will seed around quite freely, but I don’t mind this. They like damp, shady, woody environments. However, my garden is shady and dry, so there is a lot of leeway in the moisture levels.

Once the flowers are finished the seed cases revert to upright candelabras, which are equally decorative. Right now though I am enjoying the busy, beautiful umbrellas!

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Wordless Wednesday – An almost Georgian Black Widow

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A rather fabulous, self-seeded Geranium phaeum (aka the black widow/mourning widow or dusky crane’s-bill) in the shady, dry front garden

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In a Vase on Monday – Happy Weeds

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Sunny Meadow Buttercups

It is a dull day today. It has been drizzling on and off for most of the morning. Good for the garden, but not so great for raising one’s spirits. One thing guaranteed to cheer me up though is to take a walk through the billowing clouds of cow parsley and buttercups in the meadow by the river. There is something very restorative in pushing through the waist-high wafting flower heads. So I though I would share this cheerful countryside vignette, in a vase on Monday for Cathy’s fun weekly meme.

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A simple, but cheerful bunch of meadow weeds

 

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Cow parsley

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Sow thistle

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The simple colour combination and contrasting flower forms work perfectly.

A joyful bouquet arranged by nature. Happier now? Well, I certainly am.

Don’t forget to take a look at the many beautiful and diverse vases being linked today for this burgeoning IAVOM meme.

 

 

Posted in Nature, Wildflowers | Tagged , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

The sad tale of a frost damaged wisteria

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Having missed a year, this year’s early spring pruning of the wisteria over the pergola was certainly an overdue, dramatic and necessary affair. In fact the whippy offcuts were so entangled that my usual trick of weaving them together into decorative circles for the sweet pea cane obelisks was impossible. I resorted to using the shredder to dispose of them and that was like pushing springs into the grinder’s opening.

But a month later things were budding up nicely and a grand display looked to be in the offing.

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By mid April the first flowers were just beginning to show purple.

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Fresh lime green leaves were unfurling, appearing almost golden in the morning sunlight. The flowers were going to be spectacular.

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But then we had two sharp frosts.

Hard enough to damage quite a lot of the trees and shrubs just opening their leaves: the cercis, hydrangea, walnuts, foxglove tree. Most heartbreaking was the effect on the wisteria. The racemes around the edge of the pergola continued to unfurl, so I didn’t notice at first, but the rest was burnt. The entire top growth had been stopped in its tracks. Unopened flowerbuds started to drop and the leaves turned brown and wilted, hanging down like fishing rods.

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Now there is very little flower or leaf coverage left, except around the protected sides.

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So sadly, when we sit beneath that lovely pergola we can only imagine what might have been and if we only look outwards, towards the pond, not up at the sky, we can just about pretend.

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😦

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Wordless Wednesday – Looking into the heart of the stars

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Phlomis fruticosa, a handsome grey shrub with star-shaped flower buds

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and soft yellow centres

Posted in Flowers, Wordless | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments