Friday, 31 July 2009

New Plant Finds - Part 4

Broad-leaved Helleborine (Epipactis helleborine)

This orchid is not exactly a new find. In fact I found my first Broad-leaved Helleborine around 25 years ago under some willows near Sale Water Park. A book about orchids, which I was reading at the time, suggested that members of this group could often be found under willows – so I looked under every willow I came across. Eventually this strategy paid off and finally I found a Helleborine.

Broad-leaved Helleborines still grow under willows near Sale Water Park - but they’ve moved around a bit in the intervening years, and they no longer grow under the tree where I found my first one. Last year I found at least a dozen plants under the willows – but this year only two (this is fairly typical of orchids – they have good years and bad years).

This orchid also grows in Wythenshawe Park and today (31.07.2009) I found one in Gibb Wood. This is classic oak woodland – which just goes to show that, strictly speaking, Broad-leaved Helleborine doesn’t have to grow under willows (it just seems to ‘like’ them).

Broad-leaved Helleborine is the last of our local orchids to flower each year (end of July/beginning of August), and because of its woodland habitat it can grow and flower in fairly deep shade and can be quite hard to spot. There are around seven or eight species in the genus Epipactis in the UK and several more in Mainland Europe. There is some debate about exactly how many species there are in the genus, with some specialists splitting ‘single’ species into more than one on the basis of local differences, and other specialists claiming that certain ‘species’ are merely subspecies or varieties of a single species. Apparently this uncertainty is related to the fact that Epipactis (along with other orchid genera) are fairly ‘recent’ plants, in evolutionary terms, and are still actively evolving.

Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)

This member of the Carrot family (Apiaceae) is common in some parts of the UK – especially where there is some lime in the soil. For example, a couple of weeks ago I was viewing a magnificent stand of it in an old limestone quarry in Cambridgeshire. It’s fairly easy to spot because of its bright, yellow, almost luminous flower-heads (umbels).

In South Manchester it is very rare, but those plants that we do have seem to have chosen a most unlikely spot to grow in: the south bound section of Princess Parkway, near Northernden, which leads to the M56. It especially seems to favour the gaps between the crash barriers in the central reservations! I took the picture above, today, near the slip-road that leads north bound traffic towards the M60. Of course I couldn’t examine these plants in detail for fairly obvious reasons (severe danger of death being the most obvious – even I am not that keen!).

Wild Parsnip is closely related to Cultivated Parsnip. They are both members of the species Pastinaca sativa subspecies (ssp.) sativa. Wild Parsnip is variety (var.) sylvatica whereas Cultivated Parsnip is var. hortensis and has the familiar swollen, edible root. I suppose that the plants on Princess Parkway could be var. hortensis and, hence, garden escapes, but I’m not going to get the chance to dig them up to find out!

Dave Bishop, July 2009

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