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THE COMING OF THE LIZARD ORCHID TO THE BRECK M.

G.

RUTTERFORD

IT was during the early Spring of 1954, that my wife and I happened to be Walking over a piece of heathland, above which, a number of plovers were toppling and calling plaintively. Whilst searching the ground for the first nest with eggs we saw a rosette of leaves, deep in the heath grass. I could see these were not usual in such a habitat and came to the conclusion that thev were the base leaves of an orchis of some kind. When I visited the site later it was apparent that the plant would not flower that year. Early in 1955 the leaves looked a nice green colour and the centre looked like developing into a flower spike. In May it was quite clear that a flower was to be expected. With great excitement I paid frequent visits to the site, until one evening at the beginning of July, one of the bottom buds had unfolded, showing the long strap-shaped tongue of the Lizard Orchid (Himantoglossum hircinum, L., Sprengel einend. Koch [Strap-tongue, goat smelling]). It opened fully in a few days, and proved to be a nice specimen with a distinct smell of goat as the Latin name teils us. In July, 1956, the plant flowered once more. On 7th April, 1957, I noticed a young plant growing about fifteen inches from the parent. 14th June of that year gave us another flower and as will be seen, much earlier than the previous ones, owing to a spell of hot dry weather. On 16th February, 1958, I recorded that the parent did not look like flowering, but what was more exciting still I was able to count eight young plants around the parent. On 2nd April, 1959, it was observed that the " children " had increased to fifteen, but the parent again failed to flower. In 1960 there was again no flower. On 18th February, 1961, I counted seventeen young plants all within eight feet of parent. On 16th June that year the parent flowered after a rest of three years, again early owing to hot dry weather. 1962—no flower. 1963—no flower. In 1964, two young plants, which in March looked like flowering did not do so, but parent flowered on 4th July after a rest of two years.


LIZARD ORCHID

25

The colony is growing on deep sand and gravel which to my mind is surprising for I have always associated the plant with chalk. It is unlikely that the plant had been there long before discovery, owing to the great number of rabbits which were there, before myxomatosis destroyed them, for had that been the case more than one plant shouid have been found. This is the story of the Lizard Orchid (Himantoglossum hircinum) up to the present and vve can, I think, look forward to a nice colony all being in flower before long. Whence it came, must for ever remain a mystery. We believe it is growing in a place of safety, so far as land speculators are concerned. At least we hope it will not suffer the same fate that we are told befell a specimen found in Cambridgeshire. In 1920 an eminent botanist found a plant which was quite unfamiliar to him growing along-side a main road. That same year it flowered. It was the Lizard Orchid (Himantoglossum hircinum). Feeling anxious about its safety he and a helper dug it up with two feet of chalk and moved it to a similar but safer site where the next year it flowered happily. However, sometime later a tramp passing that way and feeling in need of rest and refreshment built his fire on top of the plant, since then no trace of the plant has been Seen. A similar fate befell a nice colony of Pyramid Orchid (Orchis pyramidalis) which was growing on a three-cornered piece of chalk, abutting a recently laid concrete road. A family of gipsies who came into the district for the sugar-beet hoeing made their encampment on top of the site and since that day no Pyramids have been seen. This happened in the next parish. A board has been erected—alas too late—prohibiting campers on that corner. Let us all try and do what we can to preserve this, our goodly heritage.

Note by I . C . N . W . T h i s orchis has no luck in Suffolk also and is rare elsewhere. Miss Edith Rowling told me she had known it at Tattingstone in 1932. I was not permitted by our referees to p u t a recollection of an old lady on our records. However a few years later (1959) it appeared on M r . A. L. Bull's list of plants at Tattingstone. It had therefore survived for sorae twentv-seven years. Next year M r . Bull wrote very sadly that the small rieh pasture where it and other uncommon plants grew had been ploughed up and no trace was left of Himantoglossum hircinum. Hind (1887) said it was very rare and recorded it only at Great Glemham, found by Rev. E. N . Bloomfield in 1847. Having heard of some prettv good botanists thereabouts I must suppose that it has long beeil extinet there or thev would have recorded it.

The Coming of the Lizard Orchid to the Breck  
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