UK: Ghost Orchid (slight return)


News emerged yesterday that a Ghost Orchid (Epipogium aphyllum) was found in the UK in 2009 (link to Guardian story).

Ghost Orchids were last seen in the UK in the about 1987, but after a bit of digging it seems that a single plant was found in September in Herefordshire. According to the Guardian the discovery was a very small 5cm individual, and sadly some of the blogs are reporting that it was eaten by a slug - apparently, a common cause of death with these fragile, ephemeral beings.

Ghost orchidGhost orchid

Ghost orchids flowering on the 15th July 1987 captured by Nigel Kendall.

These may represent some of the last flowering events of this species in the UK.

The news was made public at a meeting of the BSBI in late 2009 although its location, obviously, remains a closely guarded secret. There is a slight irony here. Only last October Plant Talk ran a story called Where have all the Ghost Orchids gone? in response to the Plantlife publication The Ghost Orchid Declaration that is a call to action to prevent any more of the UK's native plants from becoming extinct.

These bizarre plants contain no chlorophyll and have no leaves, hence their rather ghostly appearance. Instead they obtain their nutrition through a symbiotic relationship with woodland trees and fungi. But what should we read into this discovery, if anything? Ghost Orchids by their very nature have likely always been very rare so sightings, even solitary one, should give us hope. They should also encourage us to go looking for rarities and support those organisations trying to protect them.

With news that humans are driving extinction faster than species can evolve sightings like this acquire even more significance.

Related links:

UK: Where have all the Ghost Orchids gone?


ghost orchid The Ghost Orchid is an apt name for a plant that hasn’t been seen for such a long time, but sadly it's the latest addition to the UK extinct list.