Puffin at Hermaness, Unst

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Thursday, 15 July 2021

Red Helleborine...in the Chilterns

Last weekend was probably one of the most memorable from a botanical side of things. For years, I've been long wanting to see a Red Helleborine, whether it'd be in the UK or on the continent, especially after failing with the latter on multiple occasions. 

The status of Red Helleborine is not quite as extravagant as Ghost Orchid in the UK, but it still acquires its mega status with only four flowering plants at one site in 2021, and very few, if any, in recent years. With twitter in past weeks raging on about a handful of flowering Red Helleborines, it was an absolute privilege to head to a little-known site in the Chilterns, which is probably the last site and with only one plant in flower when I was present. 

Not only was this the last individual, it was in perfect condition, though shaking with adrenaline made it difficult to hold the camera still at times. 

Red Helleborines are very critical on light levels, so volunteers each year cut off any overhangs to ensure the correct light levels are maintained. However, a number of other factors play a key role in the flowering of orchids, and seemingly, this year has been unprecedented with other species of orchids sprouting up all over. This species can also lay dormant for years, emerging if conditions suit and only flowering in the very best of conditions. Unfortunately, luck isn't on its side, as the pollinator of Red Helleborine apparently doesn't exist in the UK! These reasons accumulated makes me realise how fortunate I was to see this superb orchid!

Red Helleborine in the Chilterns