East Kent Orchids & Other Rarities 29th May 2016

It's been an awkward season trying to determine when to see wild orchids this year. Most species have come into flower later than usual, while others have been flowering at the usual time. Without a doubt most species are at least 2 weeks behind last years' flowering times.
Our first stop was Wye National Nature Reserve near Ashford, a popular tourist spot with the Devil's Kneading Trough a favourite. It wasn't there we headed for but another more secluded area. There's only parking for 2 cars so if someone else is there it's a long walk back. However our luck was in and we parked easily.

First up was this Cardinal Beetle which had me baffled due to its yellow head. I looked in all the books and on line and couldn't find a yellow-headed beetle at all. I eventually realised its head is covered in pollen! It should be red.

Pyrochroa coccinea

The tiny pretty flowers of Fairy Flax were just tarting to appear, easily missed as they are so small.

Linum catharticum 

This is the flower of White Helleborine, a graceful, tulip like orchid that grows in shade. The flower rarely opens more than this, just showing the yellow lip within.
Look for it on the edges of Beech woods or in shady copses.

Cephalanthera damasonium

Nearby was another shade loving orchid, the weird Birdsnest Orchid. This plant has no chlorophyll and attaches itself to Beech or Yew roots for sustenance. It also needs a particular soil fungus to thrive making it a scarce plant to find.

Neottia nidus- avis

It's never all about flowers when I go out, I love seeing the butterflies, moths and insects when out and about.
This is a Dingy Skipper, not that common in Kent.

Erynnis tages

Back in the open meadow we found a few Man Orchids with their manikin like flowers. This is one of the few orchids that is more common in West Kent than in the East of the county. Nationally it is an endangered species.

Orchis anthropophora

We then drove a bit further on to another single parking space, really a muddy passing place on a tiny road.
Here was the well known colony of Late Spider Orchids and I hoped some were now in flower.

Sure enough there were about 6 in flower. In a few weeks there should be more, some with multiple flowers.

Late Spider Orchids are rather like overgrown Bee Orchids at first glance.

Their flowers are more rectangular in outline with big hairy shoulders, beautiful! These only grow in a few sites in East Kent and no where else in the UK. Needless to say they are very rare and like all orchids, do not pick them and be careful not to tread on any. They're almost invisible before flowering and every year I see some trampled by photographers.

Ophrys fuciflora

These, on the other hand, are very common. It's leaves can be eaten in a salad, hence their name of Salad Burnet. Though it is petal-less it makes up for it with showy stamens hanging down with golden anthers full of pollen on the ends.
Female flowers are comprised of short deep red styles.

Poterium sanguisorba


I chased a small butterfly until it settled long enough for a photo. this is a Small Heath butterfly

Coenonympha pamphilus

It would have been nice to explore further, but we had more to go and see elsewhere.

We then travelled a short way to Park Gate Down, a Kent Wildlife Trust reserve near Elham.

This is another orchid, the Common Twayblade with its plain green flowers. It's one of the few common wild orchids in the UK
. It looks a bit like a Frog Orchid but the pair of 2 big oval leaves make it easy to tell apart.

Neottia ovata

On our last visit here a few weeks ago, there was just one of these stunning Monkey Orchids coming into flower with a few budding stems to go with it. Now there were over 50 scattered through the meadow, all in full flower.

There are only a very few sites in the country where they grow. The flowers are delightful, they really do look like little monkeys.

Orchis simia

On our last visit there were over 100 Early Purple Orchids in flower. Most had now gone over but there were still a few to see in fine condition, like this one.

Orchis maculata

As we walked through the meadows we spotted numerous Fly Orchids, a delightful insect mimicking flower, often found with multiple flowers on one stem. These are pollinated by a solitary wasp that tries to mate with it! It's tricked by the size and shape of the flower but also because the flower emits a pheromone scent that tricks the wasp into thinking its a female of the species! Clever or what!

Orchis insectifera

A Small Copper butterfly broke up the botany for a while!

Lycaena phlaeas

Right at the far end of the reserve was a single Lady Orchid. I'm surprised it hasn't hybridised with the Monkey Orchids like they have at Hartslock reserve near Goring on Thames.

Orchis purpurea

That was about it for this reserve. It was late afternoon now, but we decided to head to Sandwich on the coast for a look at the Lizard Orchids there to see if any flowers were out yet.

On the way we stopped and had a look around a lay by near Denge Woods. I found a nice patch of Common Cow-Wheat which are semi parasitical. I couldn't determine their hosts but it would have been either Sweet Chestnut or Broom as both were close by.

Melampyrum pratense spp commutatum

We arrived at Sandwich late in the afternoon. Sea Kale was now brightening up the shingle.

Sea Kale is a Cabbage Family member with 4 petals. It can grow on  shingle and thrives if left alone.

Crambe maritima

There were a huge number of Lizard Orchid spikes, hundreds along the beach dunes, but none had any flowers out.

I then found this one in a sheltered spot on a road verge outside someones front garden which did have flowers.

This orchid flower has a long curly tail from where it gets its name. When fully open the flowers point off in all directions and it looks rather messy, though spectacular at the same time.

Himantoglossum hircinum

I took a walk along the dunes to see what else I could find. I wasn't expecting to find this Great Quaking Grass, that's for sure. The flower heads are about triple the size of the native variety usually found in Kent.

I'd not seen them before, they're not a native plant.

Briza maxima

Sea Sandwort was very numerous in the short turf on the dunes with its pyramid style stack of leaves and odd looking flowers.

Honckenya peploides

This plant is as rare as the Late Spider Orchid in the UK. It's a Bedstraw Broomrape that is parasitic on bedstraws.

It's a nice rosy colour here in the setting sun, but as it matures it turns almost completely white, quite unlike other broomrapes.

Always check the plant its growing on, usually the one closest to where the stem enters the ground. Growing right beneath it was some stunted bedstraw.

Orobanche carophyllacea

It's flowers are pretty weird too, but I find them fascinating. There are other rare broomrapes in the area such as ones on Hawkweed and Sea Holly, always worth a look.

I'd now seen everything obvious, so it was time to adjust my eyes to look at the miniature.

Sure enough, after a while I found a new plant for me, Bur Medick, a tiny clover with very few flowers and also very hairy.

Medicago minima

Nearby was another clover I'd not seen before, the flowers being very small and few in number, but this time in white. Rough Clover.

Trifolium scabrum

I thought that would be about it, but was delighted to find another tiny plant, the Sand Catchfly, only about an inch tall!
It's related to plants like Red Campion and you can see the resemblance. Once I got my eye in for them I found over a hundred, beautiful pink specks in the short turf of the sandy dunes. It was another plant I'd not seen before and I'd say this was my find of the day over any of the known orchid sites.

Silene conica

That was it! We headed home after a long, tiring, but exciting day. We saw many very rare plants and a few surprises as well. That's the wonder of nature, it always throws something new at you every time you venture out into it.

Take care


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