St John's Bee Orchids
Our bee orchids come up every winter even before the snowdrops. They don’t flower till June, but their leaves are collecting energy from winter sunlight now. Our first orchid (picture below) has done this every winter since November 2005. It’s now fourteen years old.
It’s straight in front of St John’s west door, on Mary Lock’s family grave. It’s marked with red map pins and a 3-pointed green star. Eight years after this first orchid appeared, it suddenly ‘multiplied’. Barring accidents we’ve had ten, sometimes eleven, flowering every year. But only in 2013 (after eight years) did numbers increase.
Several thousand seeds are scattered each year by the orchids. Each weighs a few millionths of a gram. They can be blown for miles by the wind. To start growing, a seed probably has to fall on soil that contains a particular under-ground fungus network (mycorrhiza). It then takes many years for the tiny seed to become a flowering orchid.
A recent lecture at Kingston University said bee orchids multiply ‘at random’ (exactly as you would expect if they were scattered by the wind). Ours, however, seem to follow a very definite pattern. So, we are watching closely to be absolutely certain if in 2021, eight years after the first one multiplied, any or all of our orchids will multiply.
‘Glomalin’, “the Hiding Place for a Third of the World’s Soil Carbon” is a newly discovered substance left in the soil by mycorrhizal fungi. It is a key ingredient in soils around the world. It may be in soils where orchids grow and not where their seeds fail to germinate. (The amount of carbon Glomalin removes from the atmosphere is huge. If increased just a few percent, it could end global warming.)
Our orchid may have spread not by seed but by roots. If it did, we do not have eleven orchids, we have just one, 17 metres wide. The position of each orchid site is marked on the ground with coloured pins. These orchid sites are to be recorded in winter and summer so that any changes in November 2021 will not be in doubt.
The map below outlines the known Orchid locations in the churchyard as at January 2020. These key sites and the surrounding areas will form the basis of our observations.