Islay Nature Notes 5 July 2009 - Orchids

summer summer summer...... and orchids everywhere!
.............and other wonderful flowers as well as skylarks singing.

Jeremy Hastings: This week I was with a couple of folks and we were riding bikes traveling through the nature. It is such a great way to experience all sorts of happenings. Time to watch, time to slow down and easy to stop. Time also to sniff the ever changing air as it is now full of all sorts of smells. there are now amazing flowers that have suddenly appeared. It also allows one to hear a wilderness orchestra and how it changes as one progresses. the really nice thing is that as one rides a bike one finds oneslf within the nature and can become part of it. I have noticed that birds and animal are less disturbed by bikes than when one is on foot. Strange but true! We watched Chough, Buzzards, Eiders, Linnets and plenty of Oystercatchers as well as Arctic Terns and Hen Harriers but best of all we saw plenty of wild orchids. Continue reading........

This introduction by David Lang of English Nature is very clear - thanks to him:

What is an Orchid?
I feel sure that I am not alone in having a plant pointed out to me by an enthusiastic naturalist with the question, "What orchid is this?", only to have to explain that it is not an orchid at all! So, what constitutes an orchid? Given the diverse nature of our relatively small orchid flora, and the manner in which some species can vary for example the bee orchid, the questioner should be excused and comforted.
Orchids belong to the Class of MONOCOTYLEDONS, in which the young plant emerging from the seed has a single juvenile leaf, known as a cotyledon. Within the Monocotyledons there are many other Families, which include plants such as Wild Arum, Autumn Squill, Bog Asphodel, various onions and garlics, rushes, sedges, grasses and lilies. Other flowering plants belong to the Class of DICOTYLEDONS, where the emerging seedling has two leaves, typical examples being the seedlings of 'mustard-and-cress', which so many of us grew in class at primary school.

The Family ORCHIDACEAE are perennial plants with fleshy roots or tubers, and unstalked, undivided leaves which are often long and narrow, with parallel veins. There are, however, three species occurring in Britain - the Ghost, Bird's-nest and Coralroot Orchids - that have no proper leaves, these being reduced to scales sheathing the base of the stem. The flowers are carried in a spike or raceme, with a bract (a leaf-like structure) at the base of each flower stalk. The perianth segments (the sepals and petals) are carried above the tubular ovary (inferior ovary), which is divided into three compartments. The reproductive organs are carried on a specialised structure called the column. This combination of an inferior ovary and the presence of the specialised column serve to separate the orchids from the other Families in their Class of Monocotyledons.

Despite the apparent complexity of orchid flowers, they consist of six perianth segments divided into two whorls of three: the outer whorl of sepals and the inner whorl of petals. The lower petal is often large, prominent and complex, and is called the labellum or lip. In primitive orchids, the lip is positioned at the top of the flower, but in most of our orchids the flower has rotated 180° so that it comes to lie at the bottom. However, in one species, the Bog Orchid, the flower has rotated through 360°, and so adopts the 'primitive' position such that the flowers appear to be upside down.

In many species, the base of the lip is extended backwards as a pouch or spur, which may contain nectar. Its shape varies: in the butterfly-orchids, the spur is long and elegant; in the spotted-orchids it is slim and parallel-sided; whereas in the marshorchids it is fat and conical.
In the helleborines, the lip is divided into a basal, cup-shaped hypochile, which may secrete nectar, and a more or less triangular tip, the epichile, which is joined to the hypochile by a hinge. At the base of the epichile are two bumps or caruncles, the texture and colour of which are helpful in distinguishing the different species.

All the flowers carry both male and female reproductive organs on a structure called the column. The single stamen is divided into two club-shaped, pollen-bearing structures called pollinia (singular pollinium). Each mass of granular pollen is borne on a stalk called a caudicle, at the base of which is a sticky disc called a viscidium. The function of the viscidium is to adhere to any visiting insect, which will then carry it away to another flower so that cross-fertilisation can occur. There are three stigmata, the central sterile stigma forming the beak-like rostellum, with a fertile stigma on either side. In many species, the rostellum acts like a shelf, separating the pollinia from the stigma and thus preventing self-pollination. The two uppermost petals may form a protective hood over the reproductive organs.

On the folklore side of things it is commonly thought that any purple orchids were magical plants ("lus an Talaidh" - herb of enticement). Used in love charms. It has two roots, one larger than the other, representing a man and a woman. The plant is to be pulled by the roots before sunrise, facing South. Which-ever root is used is to be immediately placed in spring water; if it sinks the person in question will be the future husband or wife. The root can also be ground up and placed under the pillow to bring dreams of your future partner. Of course i would not recommend this as it is illegal to pick any wild flower..... but who knows what would have happened in the past!

Other relevant Islay Wildlife and Birding Information Resources:
- Jeremy's News Blog
- Previous Islay nature reports By Jeremy Hastings
- Islay Seasonwatch by Teresa Morris
- Islay Birds blog by Ian Brook
- Islay Birder blog by John Armitage

Tag: summer flowers orchids nature

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