I feel I need cheering up after Thursday’s referendum result so have squeezed in a couple of visits to Thrislington NNR this week. It looks quite different to when I visited at the beginning of the month . Then the meadows and, especially, the woodland areas were dominated by the deceitful Early purple orchid, Orchis mascula. Now the meadows, in particular the ungrazed ones, are a sea of paler purple Dactylorhiza fuchsii – it’s clear why its called Common spotted orchid!
A few Northern marsh orchids stand out, distinguished by their rich, dark purple colour (hence the latin name, D. purpurellla) and the much less divided lower lip of the flowers.
We know there are Heath-spotted orchids (D. maculata) here, but they are difficult to spot amongst the common spotted ones. Dactylorhizas hybridise like mad, so there are almost certainly intermediate forms around too.
Once we get our eyes in, we see many delicate green Common twayblades, Listera ovata.
I can’t help thinking that the flowers look a bit like Teletubbies….
The next orchid we find is a bit of a mystery.
Initially we think they are helleborines of some sort but the flowers are not right for this – they are rather like twayblade flowers. Instead of the single pair of basal leaves which give the twayblade its name, however, these plants have leaves up the stem. In the end, we decide they are probably Frog orchids, Coeloglossum viride.
In the furthest meadow we do find helleborines though – the colony of Dark-red ones (Epipactis atrorubens) which are one of the special features of the site. At the moment the statuesque flower heads are drooping and still in bud but promise good things to come in a week or two.
Of course it’s not all about orchids – the site is amazingly diverse. We saw rock roses, perennial flax, zig-zag clover, milkwort, quaking grass, thyme, yellow rattle, ladies bedstraw, burnet rose, eyebright, salad burnet and agrimony in flower, as well as all the usual grassland suspects. Not bad for an area of magnesian limestone grassland, part of which was translocated from above the neighbouring quarry around 20 years ago!
The rich flora is good news for pollinators and seeing small blue butterflies is a rare treat in this part of the world. These were far too quick for my camera but at least this lovely Durham argus butterfly (Aricia artaxerxes salmacis) kept still for us.
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