Native Orchids by Leif Bersweden

“Native Orchids” was the subject of the talk given by Leif Bersweden Phd  a botanist whose book “The Orchid Hunter” : a young botanist’s search for happiness” was inspired by his boundless, engaging enthusiasm for “our most charismatic plant.”

Fascinated by plants, from childhood, he stayed in this country for his gap year, rather than going abroad, so as to try to find all of the fifty species of orchids here. He referred to their great variety, in colour, form and size and illustrated this with numerous slides. Ultimately he travelled all over the country, and beyond, often helped with directions by walkers and fellow enthusiasts, enjoying “the thrill of the find” of subjects such as the Man Orchid, Orchis anthropophora. (the flower looks like lots of little people.) His favourite is the Bee Orchid, Ophrys apifera. To the male bee they smell like females, and the shape resembles a bee. The male bee gets pollen on its head and so transfers it to other plants, clearly successfully, as it is found all over the country.

In the west of Ireland he found Fly Orchid, Ophrys insectifera. Its scent resembles the female wasp’s, hence attracts male wasps who do the pollinating. Leif found the Fen Orchid in South Wales. He ranged far and wide at different times linked to the individual orchid’s flowering time and location, to Kent, Gloucestershire even to the Outer Hebrides. Near Newcastle he located the Coral Root Orchid which was hard to find,

Leif told us that Victorian Britain had “Orchid Delirium”, when stocks were dug up, depleted and died out. In the 1930’s a single plant was found in The Yorkshire Dales and is still with us. A trap was erected around it, and a volunteer guard set up, to monitor it.

Not all native orchids are rare: the Common Spotted Orchid is everywhere, as is the Common Twayblade, and the early Purple Orchid is ubiquitous. The Musk Orchid is found in Selborne, and the Burnt Orchid in Chappets Copse, West Meon. In Lancashire near Silverdale is a sign directing visitors to the Lady”s Slippers. “Orchids are fussy, high-maintenance and often hard to find”, says Leif, but his infectious enthusiasm shows that the effort involved is worthwhile.