The Kent Downs stretch from the White Cliffs of Dover
to the London and Surrey borders. They are designated an area of outstanding natural
beauty. There's a great display of wild flowers and Orchids in the summer time.
Downs. Photo - West Kent Downs Countryside Trust|
Down Warren in North Kent is a pristine downland valley which in the summer is
teeming with flowers and insects.
Its star species is the Orchid, the femme
fatales of the plant world.
Kent is a great place to find them not just
for sheer numbers, but for some of the rarest varieties.
is so good for the Orchids because many of the rarest like chalk downlands and
a warm climate.
As a result it's possible to find Orchids that are common
on the continent, but rare elsewhere in UK.
Eleven different species have
been recorded on the Kent Downs reserve including the pyramidal and fragrant varieties.
Pyramidal Orchids have flowers that appear to be upside down like pyramids,
hence the name.
The fragrant Orchid has a sickly, sweet scent which is
strongest in evening.
These Orchids are pollinated by butterflies so the
valley is teeming with them including the rare Adonis Blue butterfly, especially
Another unusual variety is the Man Orchid, which is nationally
rare, is found only in the South East of England, and Kent is one of its strongholds.
lips are shaped like a tiny pendulous human figure, the two narrow side lobes
forming the arms and the long forked central lobe forming the legs - Red Ants
pollinate these Orchids.
down the road about 20 miles away in East Kent is a tiny reserve in which is also
jam-packed with Orchids.
The site has been carefully managed to encourage
little flowers and Orchid - no pesticides have been used for many years.
land is also grazed by Konig ponies to keep grass short and encourage rarities.
Konigs are the nearest we have to original wild ponies - they used to roam Europe.
Amongst the flowers is the Great Butterfly Orchid, a tall plant a foot
or so high with flowers that are white cross shaped.
Its highly scented
blooms attract moths and insects at night time.
The Fly Orchid resembles
wingless bluebottles impaled on the stalk - and secretes sex pheromones that attract
male Digger Wasps.
The Common Twayblade is relatively common but like many
orchids has extraordinary life cycle - it can take up to 15 years before it flowers.
of the Orchid's mystery is how it germinates and grows.
Tiny seeds carry
little in way of food reserves, not only must the site where they fall have ideal
conditions of light, moisture and warmth, but the tiny plant which germinates
must become infected immediately with a fungus from the soil if it is to survive.
plant derives soil nutrients from the fungus.
The Lady Orchid is a rarity
which is virtually confined to Kent with a three lobed lip which resembles a small
figure in crinoline.
They're amazing plants, popping up in hundreds, then
disappearing completely the following year.
They sometimes colonise the
most unlikely places including roadside verges.
Another rarity is the Monkey
Orchid which has been reduced to just two sites in Oxfordshire and Kent.
lip has four narrow lobes that curl forwards, the arms and legs plus a short tail.
the continent, where both the Monkey and the Man Orchids are much commoner, they
occasionally hybridise, producing what has been nicknamed the "missing link
Golf and flowers
third location is the Royal St George's golf course on the coast of East Kent
not far from Ramsgate.
It's highly unusual but this famous golf course
is an ideal habitat for the Lizard Orchid.
There are several theories about
why this Orchid does so well in this strange locality.
Some say that its
seeds spread by golfers' shoes and wheels of trolleys, whilst others say that
the flower just likes the sand dunes.
Once this was one of very few places
it could be found - now it happily seems to be spreading.
Its tall and distinctive,
untidy looking flower has a spike which bears up to 80 flowers.
bears a fanciful resemblance to tail and hind legs of lizard.
shows that Orchids don't always conform to the habitats that we expect to find
images courtesy and copyright of West Kent Downs Countryside Trust.