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July Compost Corner
01-07-2017

Unbelievably, some of my friends aren't keen gardeners! (Editor: What's gardening?) One such family recently enjoyed a fortnight's holiday. On return, the husband felt obliged to try to tidy the unkempt square of turf in their front garden that they loosely call a lawn. To their surprise, something small and beautiful had emerged from their neglect. Even though I'd never seen one before, I knew instantly it was a Bee Orchid.

Bee OrchidThe beautiful velvety flower mimics a female bumble bee to attract an amorous male. His mating attempts will gain him nothing but the sense that it was he who was taken for a ride, and a dusting of pollen to transfer to the next bee orchid that tempts him in. But the bee species in question, the long horned miner bee, is almost extinct in Britain, (I have to wonder if this is because the males wasted all their efforts trying to bonk flowers?). So the orchid has abandoned thousands of years of specialised adaptation and quickly evolved the ability to self pollinate.

The leaves of the plant are unremarkable and could easily be mistaken for a plantain or other nondescript lawn weeds. How long the orchid has lived in that small piece of turf, having its flower spike prematurely mown out, is a mystery. They can take up to eight years to flower. And how did the tiny seed get there?

Orchid seeds are like dust and contain no food reserves, so they form a symbiotic relationship with specific species of fungus in order to grow. The chances of an orchid seed surviving to finding the right fungus in a suburban garden are themselves miniscule. Even so, it is possible to buy the seed, but you'll need luck and patience in equally vast quantities.

Tony Huxley

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