Saturday, 21 June 2014

Balscote Quarry: bee orchids

Bee orchids are one of the most charismatic of our native plants and always a joy to behold.

Having discovered I had missed seeing them on my recent visit to Balscote Quarry, I was keen to return before they start going over.

That opportunity arose at lunchtime today and a grabbed a half hour or so to study some of the plants and take some pics.  They are growing just in front of the viewing screen, so you need to walk carefully to avoid treading on the orchids (which are surprisingly hard to spot at times), and not disturb the lapwings and other birds on main pool.

Bee orchids find this particular area very much to their liking and there are dozens of plants.

They are not a scarce species nationally, but very localised in our area - I would imagine they are pretty much confined to former quarries, railway cuttings and perhaps one or two grasslands.  They like nutrient poor soils on chalk or sandy geology.  Balscote offers them some great habitat, with extensive stony "soils" left from quarrying of the calcareous Hornton stone.  In some places the vegetation is still quite bare many years after the cessation of the quarry.

The flowers are designed to look like female bees so they can attract male bees, who then inadvertently pollinate them in practise most of the plants self pollinate.

Later in the summer thousands of dust-like seeds will ripen in each seed capsule and be carried on the wind across the nature reserve and far beyond, maybe finding a new site to colonise.

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