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Industrial orchids in Newcastle

A quick account of a fruitful few days spend admiring orchids in Newcastle.

As the NHSN’s Discovering Orchids project continues, I’ve been making an effort to check in on my local orchids. Visiting a number of post-industrial sites around Newcastle this week, it is safe to say that the plants did not disappoint. From your ‘everyday’ spotted orchids to a selection of scarcer species, there has been an awful lot to see.

Silverlink

Starting out at Silverlink Park, a site I talk about often, and Bee Orchids are having a good year. Indeed, during a quick visit, Matt and I recorded over sixty in bloom across the site. Big ones, small ones, some growing in grassland, others in flowerbeds, it is great to see this species doing so well here.

Straying from Silverlink for a minute, and Bee Orchids seem to be having a fantastic year locally on the whole. Not only are they performing well at traditional sites but are popping up in a host of new places too. I mentioned those at Scotswood a few weeks back, but I have also encountered them recently at Walker, Wallsend and Cobalt. At the latter, a number could even be seen invading the landscaped gardens of various office blocks!

Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera)

Back to Silverlink and it was great to see Common Spotted Orchid becoming more numerous too. As expected, these have now taken over from Northern Marsh Orchid as the most numerous species blooming on site. A few marsh orchids could still be seen, of course, though these were invariably those growing in shady locations. The vast majority of those visible only a week back had long since browned and died.

Somewhat more exciting here was the discovery of a single Pyramidal Orchid. Growing within the site’s rich calcareous grassland, this looks to be the first record for the site. Indeed, having visited for many years, I can safely say I have never seen one here until now.

Pyramidal Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis)

A surprise

Moving on, a kind tip-off from a local naturalist resulted in a bit of a surprise this week, a few Facebook messages leading to an encounter with an altogether more special orchid. The delicate plant seen below is Heath Fragrant Orchid, an entirely new species for me.

Smaller and with fewer flowers than its larger cousins, this orchid really is a beauty. Better still, it smells amazing! A scent I would describe as sweet and citrusy that others have hailed as ‘spicy’.

Heath Fragrant Orchid is a scarce species in the North East and one usually found in the uplands. To see one in urban Tyneside certainly is a treat.

Newburn

To some abandoned brownfield land at Newburn now and more Common Spotted Orchids. So many in fact that we lost count at 250! An abundant and familiar species across most of the UK, it is not often I see them in such numbers. The sight of so many flowers swaying in the breeze a welcome reminder of what more grasslands in our nation should look like.

Here too, a few Northern Marsh Orchid were hanging on, though looking a little worse for wear, and we identified several Common Spotted Orchid x Northern Marsh Orchid hybrids. Seeking out the biggest visible plant before looking closer seems to be a good technique for this – Dactylorhiza x venusta tends to be a whopper.

Down by the river, we soon discovered the first of the day’s targets: Dune Helleborine. A rare plant nationally, those on the Tyne are said to be the locally endemic Epipactis dunensis subsp. tynensis. Or Tyne Helleborine, to use simple terminology. Either way, for some, the jury remains out as to whether they truly are a subspecies or not. Personally, I quite like them, but perhaps I’m just patriotic?

It was surprising to find over sixty Dune Helleborine in just thirty minutes of casual searching at Newburn. So many, in fact, that they outnumbered their larger and usually more abundant cousin, the Broad-leaved Helleborine. These were present in good numbers, perhaps forty or so, but still seemed scarcer than in previous years. Most of the plants we noticed had yet to flower, but a few had just dared open.

Well, that concludes this orchid-focused ramble. The diversity of these mesmerising plants around Newcastle never fails to amaze me and I’ll be looking for more in the future!

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