Bird’s-nest Orchids in Lower Woods

Vic Savery kindly sent me this excellent photo of a Bird’s-nest Orchid (Neottia nidus-avis), one of a group of six he found today in Lower Woods, near Wickwar. The plants were in either Gibbons Trench or Horwood Trench, two paths which run west from the main north-south ride (see the reserve map here). Bird’s-nest Orchid is found in several scattered woodland sites around Bristol, usually in small colonies like the one Vic found today. The situation is much the same in Somerset and Wiltshire, but it becomes more common in the Cotswolds, the Forest of Dean and the Wye Valley.

birds nest orchid 9
Bird’s-nest Orchid, 27 May 2013, Lower Woods, Gloucestershire, Vic Savery (naturenutz.net)

Bird’s-nest Orchid obtains its nutrients from a species of Sebacina fungus, which lives in the root system of the orchid and in turn receives its nutrients from nearby tree roots, The relationship between the fungus and tree is a two-way partnership: the fungus passes minerals back to the tree. The orchid however, gets a nutritional free ride. In many sites, the host tree is Beech (Fagus sylvatica), although in Lower Woods, it is presumably Hazel (Corylus avellana). Anyway, because of all this, Bird’s-nest Orchid doesn’t need any of the green photosynthetic chlorophyll molecule, hence its characterstic pale brown colour. No other similar-looking British woodland plant species is at its flowering peak at this time of year: Toothwort (Lathraea squamaria) is well past its best, and Yellow Bird’s-nest (Monotropa hypopitys) is still underground.

For more of Vic’s photos, take a look at his website.

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