A confusion of orchids in Nedd

July 21st 2019

Beside my front door at Nedd (NC1331) there is an old iron cooking pot that once housed an ornamental fuchsia.  Over the last decade or more it has been invaded by both sanicle Sanicula europaea and a range of wild orchids.  I don’t know where the sanicle came from, since it does not appear to occur anywhere else in my garden.

However, I do have some ideas about the origin of the orchids. When Pat and I moved here, in August 1991, we brought up four old sinks containing a selection of alpines. Amongst these we found later that we had introduced, inadvertently, a few specimens of the common spotted orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii.  The original stock of these had been rescued from an old coal mine site in Leicestershire that was about to be opencast. Plants from the site had been turning up in corners of our former garden.  Common spotted orchid is anything but common in Assynt, only known to us from limestone in the vicinity of Ardvreck Castle (NC2323). There are three older records localised just to the 10km squares 03, 13 and 21.

In the intervening three decades the introduced common spotted orchid has quietly colonised the Nedd garden, finding large pots especially to its liking.  Some of these pots have also acquired self-seeded examples of the northern marsh-orchid Dactylorhiza purpurella, which occurs naturally elsewhere in the garden.

The predictable consequence has been cross pollination, yielding splendid examples of the hybrid Dactylorhiza x venusta. This has the three-lobed lower lip of its spotted parent, but the much deeper colouration of its marsh parent, and larger flower spikes than either.  It also has leaves covered with oval spots, which is a little atypical.  This particular hybrid has been widely recorded in northern England and southern Scotland, where its parents overlap, but only very rarely in the north-west of Scotland.

The orchids are not in the least confused; they seem to be getting on splendidly.  That is my problem, since I am puzzled as to whether I can ‘properly’ record the occurrence of the hybrid.  Botanists do record garden plants that have escaped from ‘captivity’ and are maintaining themselves in the wild.  Both the common spotted orchid and its hybrid seem to qualify, since neither arrived through any deliberate action on our part.  I shall probably log at least the hybrid, and leave posterity to squabble over its validity.

Ian Evans

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