Wildflower walking – with(out) Maurice

Another wild flower post? Well, why not. I’ve got my new wildflower survey square from Plantlife, and this one takes me into the dunes, and hopefully not towards any inquisitive cows this time. Nudists, possibly (there’s a naturist part of the nearby beach) but at least they’re more likely to avoid me than chase after me.

We’ve had some sun, so I managed to play hooky and take off for a prospective walk into part of the dunes, just to get my eye in.

Um – that and see if I could find a truly rare plant. Very rare, round here.

Years ago a couple of friends and I found one here. I told a third friend, a wonderful naturalist and archaeologist called Maurice, and he didn’t quite believe it. So I took him there to show him – and couldn’t find it again. We searched everywhere. We clambered up dunes, fought our way through scrub and dwarf willows in the dune slacks, we almost got lost. (Omar Sharif riding out of  a mirage on a camel rescued us. Oh, all right, he didn’t, but he should have.) Not a hint. Lots of other things, but not a slightest hint of a ––– well, wait and see. It became a sort of Holy Grail. I’d seen it once, and then could never find it again.

So about this time of year, every year, Maurice and I would take off into the dunes and look for the Great Mystery Plant. Maurice sadly died a couple of years ago, but we even went on our hunt when he couldn’t walk very far without stopping. That just gave us a chance to listen to the skylarks and enjoy the other wildflowers anyway. Because this part of the dunes is positively littered with wonders.

Orchids, orchids, orchids. There are broad-leaved marsh orchids, early purples, pyramidals, common spotteds.

And yesterday everything was alive with crowds of moths, five- and six-spotted burnets. Here’s one on an early purple orchid:

two on a pyramidal orchid:

and a whole heap on a scabious:

I spent ages sitting and watching moth behaviour (it’s the Springwatch effect), and not really understanding what I was seeing. But it was fascinating, none the less – mostly feeding with some mating, but with what also appeared to be challenges between individual moths. Quite distracted me from the search for the GMP. As did all the other plants.

There are usually a lot of helleborines here, but they’re not quite out yet. On the other hand, the yellow rattle was both plentiful and out, and looking good:

There are great sheets of yellow from various vetches, of which my favourite is the slightly fluffy kidney vetch (I do wish it had a nicer name):

and the coastal variety of wild pansy, V. tricolour curtisii:

I also have a real fondness for sea holly. I love the almost tarnished-copper tone of subdued turquoise.

When I was on my ‘it really was, no, it really was’ corroboration missions with Maurice we often met people. Generally they seemed to find these two eejits wandering slowly around the dune slacks bent double rather amusing (though most did tend to edge away when we explained what we were looking for). Once, however, we encountered a dog walker who said ‘Oh, yes,  I know it. It’s near the path.’

No, it wasn’t.

Or not then, it wasn’t.

Last week, another friend – one of the original GMP spotters, and who had also been unsuccessful since – came back from a flying visit wet and over-excited: she’d found it. Near the path. So I knew I had a chance.

And yes, there it was:

A bee orchid. Ohprys apifera.

Oh, I know there are places where they can be found quite easily; Roger Phillips is quite dismissive of them: ‘the commonest form of  Ophrys…’ I don’t care. They’re not common at all here; there’s allegedly a colony in the restricted part of a nearby nature reserve, but no chance of getting to see those.


In the 1963 paper A Contribution to a Flora of Merioneth, Benoit and Richards do mention it, but say ‘Two localities only, in calcareous grassland, we think it inadvisable to name them because of the persecution that this sp. suffers,’ and that’s why I’m being cagey about where it is, too. There’s only one plant here, though B & R mention counting 101 at one of their locations in 1958. So unlikely, so strange, so downright weird.

And it’s definitely not, absolutely not, where I saw it the first time. Somewhere there’s another…


12 thoughts on “Wildflower walking – with(out) Maurice

  1. paulinemulligan

    Wonderful, how fantastic to have all those amazing flowers so near to you and I hope your bee orchid survives without being kidnapped!

    1. kate Post author

      We’re very lucky – and I’m hoping most people (except, of course, the Knowledgeable Dog Walker) just walk straight past it. They must do, if it’s survived so far… phew…

  2. Dobby

    It just goes to show that a little perseverance pays off. Well done and yes, keep it’s location secret. And maybe on your next jaunt through the dunes, you will find it’s mate. Good luck.

    1. kate Post author

      I’m hoping the dog walkers who might spot it either don’t realise what they’re seeing, or do and understand about keeping it quiet. Everyone else – most probably people who go deliberately looking for it – should do. It’s not wildly obvious, so I think people just taking that path from the beach by accident will miss it. (And there won’t be many of them.)

      Seed, I think – Roger Phillips says ‘its success is probably due to the fact that it is habitually self-pollinated’ – but my modern flora doesn’t tell me useful things like that (grr).

    1. kate Post author

      I’m now wondering how often I’ve actually walked past it!

      (Part of me think it would have been even more worthwhile with Omar Sharif.)
      (Er, OS then…. but I’d settle for George Clooney as a substitute.)

  3. wellywoman

    I think the Plantlife surveys are great fun. You’ve just reminded me we need to do ours again. Maybe wait till the hay fever has passed though. A bee orchid has been on my list of plants to see for years now and I came across my first last week, completely unexpectedly. I was so chuffed. They’re such beautiful plants, aren’t they? Looks like the local wildlife is enjoying all those flowers.

    1. kate Post author

      I’m waiting to do mine until the rain has stopped. Who knows, maybe I’ll get out this week… we shall see. Hrumpf and grumble.

      Congratulations on your bee orchid too! (I must go and check mine out again, make sure it’s still there and see if the helleborines are out yet. Wonder if there’ll be enough of a gap in the weather?)


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