Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Orchid Hunter

Early Marsh Orchid, Dactylorhiza incarnata
Wild orchids are a treat to behold, their cascade of flowers boldly proclaiming their uniqueness with only c. 28 species present in the wild in Ireland (1). And yet, as is becoming increasingly the case with many species, their numbers are decreasing, dramatically in the case of some of the rarer species. The reasons for this are manifold and complex but are all due to habitat destruction of one form or another.
Early Marsh Orchid, Dactylorhiza incarnata, with emerging flowers
However they are not so scarce as to require treks deep into uncharted territory to view examples of the commoner species. It is rather embarrassing to admit but I had never before seen a wild orchid in Ireland. A combination of bad timing and lethargy has thwarted me over the years so it was with great joy that I found a number of Early Marsh Orchids (Dactylorhiza incarnata) on Galley Head on the south west coast. Their cascade of purple flowers, held aloft above the surrounding grasses was quite the show. Even here, however, they were confined to areas where the vegetation was at its lowest. A 28 year survey of D. incarnata in northern Germany confirmed this observation with populations on meadows enjoying a resurgence with the reintroduction of mowing of meadows (2). While D. incarnata showed some shade tolerance, in vegetation over 150 cm plants were unable to survive. Introduction of such mowing methods in places with surviving populations of D. incarnata would certainly help increase numbers.
Early Marsh Orchid, Dactylorhiza incarnata
Marsh Orchids, the genus Dactylorhiza, are a taxonomically confusing group with many species readily hybridising to give a plethora of morphological variations (1). D. incarnata is no exception, with five subspecies being recorded in Ireland (3).
Early Marsh Orchid, Dactylorhiza incarnata

  1. O'Mahony, 2009. Wildflowers of Cork City and County pp. 296-312
  2. Schrautzer et al., 2011. Flora 206 pp. 622-630
  3. Stace, 1997. New Flora of the British Isles

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