MAIN MENU (leading to individual articles):
AMPHIBIANS   |   BIRDS  |  BUTTERFLIIES  |  MOTHS  | DRAGONFLIES  |  OTHER INSECTS
MAMMALS   |  PLANTS  |  ORCHIDS   |  LICHENS  |  FUNGI
 |  WHAT TO SEE MONTH BY MONTH  
FURNESS  |  BIRKRIGG COMMON  |  CONTACT DETAILS  |  HOME


FURTHER PLANT ARTICLES:    BLUEBELLS  |  DAFFODILS   |   FLORAL DISPLAYS   |  FRAGRANT ORCHIDS  |   HELLEBORINES  
 
"INSECT" ORCHIDS   |  LADY'S SLIPPER ORCHID   |   MARSH ORCHIDS  |   ORCHIDS   |  PLANTS
Dune Helleborine Lady's Slipper Orchid Early Marsh Orchid ssp coccinea Marsh Helleborine Fragrant Orchid Heath Spotted Orchid Greater Butterfly Orchid Northern Marsh Orchid

ORCHIDS IN CUMBRIA

Many people associate orchids with "rarity" in the plant world, but that is far from being the case. In fact, Cumbria supports 27 different species of orchid, some quite common but most now fairly scarce. Sadly the scarcity arises from man's influence on the environment - by agricultural "improvement", waste tipping in old quarries, road building, etc.

The exotic foreign species - orchids being the second largest plant family in the world - are well known for their large flowers. However, most British species have small flowers, but often with a large number on each stem. The exception is the Lady's Slipper orchid, sadly a species which became extinct in the wild in South Cumbria in Victorian times (but see the good news by clicking the Lady's Slipper link above).

To the botanist, the fascination of orchids is the high degree of specialisation they have evolved to attract insects and ensure pollination. This is a story of ensnarement, deception, bribery, sexual favour and even violence!!

One of the six petals of an orchid flower is enlarged - referred to as the lip. In the case of the Lady's Slipper the lip forms a large pouch which insects can enter. They cannot escape up the slippery curved sides (entrapment)and are drawn to the back of the lip where the orchid obligingly provides steps in the form of hairs. Exiting this way, the insect brushes against the pollinia and carries them to another plant.

The Common Spotted Orchid, widespread throughout Cumbria, has a double loop marking on the lip which insects read as a guide to nectar - except it doesn't have any (deception)! It takes flies several visits to get the message, by which time they've probably fertilised several flowers. On the other hand, the Greater Butterfly orchid, now restricted to a few sites at the head of Morecambe Bay, provides plenty of nectar (bribery). It doesn't rely on colour or pattern, but uses scent and a luminous glow to attract moths as pollinators.

The Fly orchid has evolved to mimic insects in its appearance, even to the point of smelling like the pheromone of the female insect they copy. As the male insects emerge before the females, they are tricked into attempting to mate with the orchid (sexual favour), picking up pollinia in the process.

The small, inconspicuous flowers of the Common Twayblade, found widely throughout Cumbria in deciduous woods and by roadside verges, use mini-explosions to ensure cross-pollination. Attracted down a channel of nectar the insect touches the pollinia and sets off a small explosion (violence), which releases the pollinia, sticks them onto the insects head and so startles the insect that it flies off to another plant!

SPECIES FOUND IN CUMBRIA

The number indicates the approximate number of tetrads (2km x 2km squares) in which the species is found in Cumbria (Source: Flora of Cumbria : Halliday)
Distribution across the county is given geographically (N = north etc. C = central Lakes : T = throughout the county)

Broad-leaved Helleborine . 3 . N :Marsh Helleborine . 10 . E : Dark-red Helleborine . 22 . S : Broad-leaved Helleborine . 132 . T Dune Helleborine . 1 . W : Green-flowered helleborine . 2 . W : Bird's-nest Orchid . 26 . N/E Common Twayblade . 326 . T : Lesser Twayblade . 58 . C/E : Autumn Lady's-tresses . 8 . S ;Creeping Ladies-tresses . 8 . N : Bog Orchid . 14 . C : Coralroot . 3 . W : Greater Butterfly Orchid . 94 . T Lesser Butterfly Orchid . 55 . T : Pyramidal Orchid . 9 . W : Small White Orchid . 9 . E : Fragrant Orchid . 142 . T: Frog Orchid . 42 . E : Common Spotted Orchid . 814 . T : Heath Spotted Orchid . 413 . C Early Marsh Orchid . 33 . S/W : Northern Marsh Orchid. 293 . T : Early Purple Orchid . 406 . T Green-winged Orchid . 15 . S :Fly Orchid . 29 . S : Bee Orchid . 20 . S/W