Sunday 20 August 2017

BSBI training grants helping botanists in 2017: Part Three

Spittal of Glenshee
Image: T. Jones
Following on from Richard's report on how a BSBI training grant helped him get to grips with grasses, sedges and rushes, we now have Tomos' report on how his BSBI training grant enabled him to study orchids in Scotland.

Over to Tomos:

“I have a particular interest in the Orchidaceae, their diversity and intricate beauty, and enjoy caring for the collection of tropical and sub-tropical orchids at Treborth Botanic Garden. This gave me the opportunity to travel to Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanic Garden in southern China, as an intern focusing on the conservation of orchids used in traditional Chinese medicine, particularly Dendrobium species. 

Dactylorhiza maculata
Image: T. Jones
"On arriving home, I realised how unfamiliar I was with our native orchids, and so I have focused on finding and identifying these during the last two seasons. Here’s my blogpost about my time finding orchids in Scotland during June.

"I was fortunate to receive a BSBI Training Grant to attend the Field Study Council course ‘Wild Orchids of Scotland’ at FSC Kindrogan, June 19th – 23rd, 2017.  I departed Bangor in N. Wales on the train, ready for a not-so-short journey to Pilochry. I arrived and enjoyed a fantastic meal with the group at the FSC centre before we went for a short walk to find Dactylorhiza purpurella (Northern Marsh Orchid). 

"Our tutor, Martin Robinson, described an orchid's general morphology, in particular, features that are important for identification such as: sheathing and non-sheathing leaves, bracts, the inflorescence (the collection of individual flowers on the stem) and the structure of individual flowers. Dactylorhiza purpurella has broad blue-green leaves, which are mostly unspotted. 

Gymnadenia borealis
Image: T. Jones
"It has a dense inflorescence of deep magenta flowers with a ‘diamond’ shaped lip (labellum) which has darker markings. Martin showed us the twisted ovary, the result of twisting 180° during development – so in fact the flowers are upside-down!

"Tuesday – as I was told by a few Scots – was an uncharacteristically sunny and hot day for Scotland. Our first stop was The Cairnwell to search a hillside of mostly heather for Dactylorhiza viridis (Frog Orchid) and Neottia cordata (Lesser Twaybade). “Frog!” I heard, and walked towards the point of excitement to find a beautiful four-legged creature, but no orchid. 

"We finally found Frog Orchids on a greener patch, free from heather. I struggled to see the resemblance to the creature we had just found, but it was a beautiful orchid nonetheless. It had a hood (formed of sepals and petals) and a globular spur containing nectar (the only one of the genus to produce nectar). 

Platanthera bifolia
Image: T. Jones
"Our next target was the Lesser Twayblade, and I am ashamed to say that I found none. Luckily, others had more luck and found several, growing amongst the heather. A small and distinctive orchid, it was easier to spot its pair of heart-shaped leaves rather than the inflorescence. 

"Our next site, Spittal of Glenshee mire, offered a total of four species: Dactylorhiza incarnata subsp. incarnata (Early Marsh Orchid), D. maculata (Heath Spotted Orchid), D. purpurella and Gymnadenia conopsea s.l. (Fragrant Orchid), which was new for me. I was very excited for our final visit of the day to Stormont Loch, Blairgowrie, where we were hoping to find Goodyera repens (Creeping Lady’s-Tresses). 

"This is a species that I certainly wouldn’t find at home, as it is found in northern and eastern Scotland, northern England and has an unexpected population in Norfolk. It grows in mature pinewoods, in deep humus of pine needles. Unfortunately, the flowers were not fully open, but it was possible to see that they are very hairy! 

Neottia nidus-avis
Image: T. Jones
"Our first stop on Wednesday was Loch of Kinnordy, a RSPB reserve, for Neottia ovata (Common Twayblade). I had seen this species back in North Wales, but not in such numbers. 

"We then headed to Forfar, to a wonderful site of numerous Platanthera bifolia (Lesser Butterfly Orchid), Northern Marsh, Heath Spotted and Heath Fragrant Orchids. The arrival of rain was a good excuse to sit in the van and have our lunch. 

"We then found Neottia nidus-avis (Bird’s Nest Orchid) in a small beech woodland. This orchid is a saprophyte (entirely dependent on fungi) and lacks green chlorophyll, which explains its honey-brown colour. The flowers are yellowish-brown and the lip has a nectar-producing depression. We then continued to a further two sites to test our new-found identification skills. 

Pseudorchis alba
Image: T. Jones
"Thursday was our final day of orchid hunting. Our first stop was Straloch Moraines, a fantastic site for Pseudorchis albida (Small White Orchid) and more Heath Fragrant Orchids. 

"The former was rather inconspicuous, at least in my opinion, but once we had our ‘eye in’, it was found in good numbers. It has a dense inflorescence of small flowers with whitish or creamy sepals and greener petals, and a lip which is deeply three-lobed. 

"We then headed to Pitarrig Meadow, Pitlochry, where we found D. incarnata subsp. pulchella which is more of a ‘purplish-pink’ than the ‘flesh pink’ of D. incarnata subsp. incarnata. Pitarrig Meadow also offered some more of the same species, which gave us the opportunity to again test our new found ID skills. 

Platanthera chlorantha
Image: T. Jones
"Our course finished with a visit to Weem Meadow, Aberfeldy, after seeing Platanthera chlorantha (Greater Butterfly Orchid) at Keltneyburn, which is a Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve. 

"This was my favourite site because it was such a beautiful wildflower meadow supporting an abundance of dancing butterflies. 

"One feature which distinguishes between Lesser and Greater Butterfly Orchids are the two pollinia: in the former, the pollinia are parallel whereas in the latter they are well-separated at the base but taper inwards towards the tip. 

"I thoroughly enjoyed the course, finding a total of thirteen species and meeting like-minded orchid enthusiasts. 

Dactylorhiza praetermissa
Image: T. Jones
"I am now much more confident in identifying our native orchids, and although I will probably still need to refer to the books from time to time, at least I now know what characteristics to look for during identification. 

"Since returning to North Wales, I have continued orchid hunting and found Dactylorhiza praetermissa (Southern Marsh Orchid) which is a relative newcomer to the area and D. x grandis, its hybrid with Dactylorhiza fuchsii (Common Spotted Orchid). 

"My thanks go to Martin for a brilliant week, and to the BSBI for awarding me a training grant". 

Many thanks to Tomos for telling us what he did with his BSBI training grant. 

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