Pyramids and Stars

Latest sightings
Picture of Anacamptis pyramidalis (Pyramidal Orchid)
Anacamptis pyramidalis (Pyramidal Orchid). Photo: Wendy Tagg

The human influence on the distribution of many plants was apparent in a couple of communications I have received over the summer. Wendy Tagg sent some pictures intriguingly titled “The Pyramid of Uckfield”, and noted:

I was on the way back from an early morning run when I saw a flash of pink. Maybe a carelessly thrown away sweet wrapper? No.  A lovely Anacamptis pyramidalis (Pyramidal Orchid) was growing at the foot of a straggly hedge, just 20 yards from the Uckfield railway line.

As she observed, this is not an area in which this Downland plant is usually found:

This species’ absence in Uckfield isn’t surprising because it is an alkali lover and we are on acid clay. My best guess is that the limestone ballast used for the track bed has influenced the soil to make a more hospitable environment for the flower.

It does occasionally turn up in the Weald, and has even been found transiently on discarded contractors’ limestone right in the middle of Ashdown Forest.

I was also pleased to see an email from Robert Gordon of the Friends of Henfield Museum with an update on the flowering of Ornithogalum pyrenaicum (Spiked Star-of-Bethlehem) in the town. As many people with an interest in Sussex plants know, one of the esteemed English botanists, William Borrer (1781–1862), lived in the town, and there are many introduced species still around the area, surviving from his abundantly-planted garden. The Ornithogalum is one such remnant, and Robert reported that it grew “in June this year on the edge of Borrer’s former garden. They hadn’t been known to grow in this specific spot (in recent history)”. Furthermore, it was the largest number anyone locally had seen there, and which put “the three or so comparably straggling specimens on the Borrer bank this year to shame”. He continued: “Some fairly mature trees were recently cut down there, so I have wondered whether this triggered some dormant seeds that had been lying in wait to burst forth (perhaps combined with an encouraging climate…).”

Picture of Ornithogalum pyrenaicum (Spiked Star-of-Bethlehem)
Ornithogalum pyrenaicum (Spiked Star-of-Bethlehem). Photo: Robert Gordon

See also the reports of previous field meetings in Borrer’s footsteps: