This is another compilation from a few local botanising trips, this time mostly in pursuit of various Helleborine species.
Warkshire Dune Helleborines
Having recently joined the Native UK Orchids Facebook group I started seeing posts mentioning a newly-discovered colony of Dune Helleborines in the neighbouring county of Warwickshire. A bit of Googling and I learnt that this was formerly considered to be merely a sub-species of Narrow-lipped Helleborine but had recently been promoted to species status in its own right. Some more internet enquiries and I connected to SC who not only knew where they were but was also willing to show me around the site. So one rainy and overcast Saturday in July I headed north along the M40 towards Warwickshire, stopping off at Banbury to pick up Ewan (of Black Audi Birding fame) as he'd expressed an interest tagging along for any orchid excursions that I might be considering. The rain persisted all the way to our destination and for the twenty minutes that we waited in the car for SC to turn up (since we were early) but then miraculously it stopped just as he arrived. He turned out to be incredibly knowledgeable about orchids and was soon giving us a lesson in cross-pollination versus self-pollination and how to tell Dune Helleborine from the Broad-leaved Helleborines that were also present at this site. It turns out that DH are self-pollinating so all the plants are genetically identical and this is in fact quite a good pointer for ID. By looking at the surrounding plants if they all look the same then that tells you that it's a self-pollinator whereas if there is some variation (as with BLH) then that's going to be cross-pollinating. We followed around dutifully trying to keep us with the science and taking some photos. A volunteer warden at the site turned up and as SC had to leave he offered to show us around the rest of the site. It was quite a nice little reserve and far more extensive than one would think from first appearances and full off all sorts of wonderful wasteland flowers though the star attractions were of course the Helleborines.
|Broad-leaved Helleborine - showing the characteristic broad, heavily-veined leaves near the base|
|Dune Helleborines - note how the leaves are narrower and almost form a cowl around the stem|
Having been swotting up on orchid locations with Oxon this year, I kept coming across Warburg NR as a top location so I thought that it was only right and proper that I paid a visit there. Therefore late morning a few days after my Warwickshire excursion I headed off on a very rainy and gloomy day down into the deepest darkest corners of the county and along some narrow windy roads until I arrived at the reserve car park. A quick enquiry at the lodge and I was given a map with where to go to see the Helleborines. I'd been told that there were a few Narrow-lipped still in flower but that it had been a very poor year for Violet Helleborines though there were a couple about. I followed the instructions and found myself deep in a Beech wood. The combination of the dense canopy and the grey clouds meant that it was so dark that I had great difficulty in seeing anything at all and it was a real wonder that anything was growing there at all. Still, the NLH were all caged up so it was merely a matter of walking from cage to cage to see what was in each one. About half the cages were empty, some only had a few stunted leaves but there were a couple that were in full flower. I tried my best to take photos but one either had to use the flash which made everything look weird or else the shutter speed was so slow that it just came out blurry. In the end I half covered the flash with my thumb and thereby obtain a passable record shot.
|Narrow-lipped Helleborine in the dark|
I had a wander further along to see if I could find the Violets but despite stumbling around in the darkness for some while I couldn't turn them up. So, as an antidote to the gloom I headed back to the car along the Wildflower Walk which was full of all sorts of delights that one might typically find on unimproved calciferous grassland.
|Clustered Bellflower along the Wildflower Walk|
On the way back I popped in at a local woodland site nearby where I'd been told by Wayne Bull (see his great blog here) a few Green-flowered Helleborines were to be found. Fortunately Wayne's instructions were very precise and I managed to find them quickly enough.
Aston Rowant/Bald Hill
After having not seen VH in my previous trip I decided to head off to Aston Rowant a couple of weeks later where I'd been told that some could be found within the Beech Wood along the approach road. After a bit of blundering around in the gloom I managed to find half a dozen or so though most of them had been munched and the rest were still tightly in bud so I return visit a few weeks later was clearly in order. Still at least I'd seen one now.
|Violet Helleborine - still tightly in bud|
Whilst in the neighbourhood I did pop over to Bald Hill for a quick wander around though there was little of note there. However, I later found out that I have been looking in the wrong spot for the site specialities here so armed with better info again another visit is due in the future