Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Rare Orchid in Flower

An extremely rare and endangered orchid which was once on the brink of extinction in the UK is blooming again in woodland in Gloucestershire.

Cephalanthera rubra known as the Red helleborine, is usually located in Europe where it is classed as "vulnerable" and is only known to exist in just three sites in south England. Cephalanthera rubra gets its name from 'Kephale' is Greek for head, and 'anthera' is botanical Latin for the part of the flower which contains the pollen, so Cephalanthera are characterized by pollen recepticles that look like a head. 'Rubra' is from the Latin for 'red', a reference to the flower colour.

Seven years ago there were only three plants remaining at the National Trust site in the Cotswolds. However, following extensive conservation work there are now over 30 plants in this particular location.

National Trust countryside ranger Tim Jenkins said although the species had been recorded in the beech woodland site for over seventy years, it was only in more recent years that the number of plants had increased and they were starting to flower regularly.

He said that whilst little was known about the precise habitat and growing conditions required for the plant, conservation work was going on at the site in an attempt to optimise the surrounding area to attempt to let the orchid flourish.

"We don't fully understand how the plant reproduces here as the particular bee that normally pollinates it is not found in the UK. We've tried manually pollinating the orchid and even taking cuttings but we've not had any luck yet but we are sharing our knowledge with experts at Kew Gardens and Natural England. To improve the soil temperature and increase light levels we've cleared some trees and the area undergoes intensive management in the winter to help improve the growing conditions."

There are over fifty species of orchid native to the UK and the red helleborine is amongst the rarest native species.

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