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THE LIZARD ORCHID (HIMANTOGLOSSUM HIRCINUM) AT LAKENHEATH - A HISTORY OF HAPPENINGS SINCE 1974 M. G.

RUTTERFORD

The following notes from Mr Rutterford's diary provide a unique record of the growth of the rare and unmistakable Lizard Orchid, Himantoglossum hircinum (L.) Spreng., which grows on sandy-gravel near Lakenheath, Suffolk. He first found a single plant in 1954, and has visited the site each year since then (Rutterford, 1964; 1975). This orchid is very rare in Suffolk, but it is in A. L. Bull's list of plants at Tattingstone (1959) where it was thought to have been growing for at least 27 years before it disappeared. The flowers of the Lizard Orchid are purplish-green, each with an exceptionally long (up to 5cm) strap-like lip which is whitish towards the base and blotched with red. The flowers are closely packed in a spike borne on a stem of up to 40cm high. The flowers smell strongly of goats. The leaves are broad and blunt and deep green when young. (Editor.) 1975 1976

Sixteen plants counted in February, most of them young plants. Twenty-five plants showing, one especially good rosette of leaves which could flower. It failed to do so. 1977 Thirty-one plants on 27 May, all showing frost damage. None flowered. 1978 Twenty-four plants on 17 March. Several good rosettes of leaves of good colour, but none flowered. On Christmas Day fifteen new plants looked very fresh despite severe frost. 1979 Forty plants recorded by Gigi Crompton and friends. In December seven new plants, one especially good. We hoped it would flower in 1980, but it failed to do so. 1980 Forty plants recorded by Gigi Crompton and friends. All plants crumpled and dried out on 29 May after almost eight weeks without rain. The site is very subject to drought being a gravel soil. DĂźring the last Century stones and gravel were sifted and sent to the distant Fens in barges for road making. 1981 Twenty-five plants on 27 March, some showing promise of flowering, but again none did. Gigi Crompton and friends later counted thirtynine plants. 1982 Twenty plants on 30 January. All looked of a good colour but failed to flower. On 5 October one nice rosette of leaves, and again hope of flowering. Moles had pushed up several heaps of soil among the plants. I stamped them down. 1983 Thirty-four plants on 10 May, the rosette seen on the previous October looks like flowering. First Lizard Orchid flower showing on 4 June. A small plant probably trampled by a hare (droppings seen nearby). It was propped up with moss and managed to flower later. The first flowers seen for ten years. The larger plant set seed, the smaller did not.

Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. 21


THE LIZARD ORCHID AT LAKENHEATH

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1984 Some very nice rosettes ort 9 January, four at least mayflowerbecause central stems are developing. All plants which we hoped might flower had dried out by 24 May, owing to seven weeks of drying east winds and sun. This then is the story of the Breckland Lizard Orchids. Why noflowersfor ten years? Some years ago I mentioned this to the late Dr Roger Butcher, who thought perhaps theyfloweredthemselves almost to extinction, then had to rest and build up beforefloweringagain. But surely not ten years? If there is another site where Lizard Orchids and Spanish Catchfly (Silene otites (L.)) are growing literally side by side I would very much like to know of it. Not far away are Grape Hyacinth (Muscari atlanticum Boiss. & Reut.) and Breck Speedwell (Veronicapraecox All.) growing. Ten miles to the west, on a clear day the twin towers of Ely Cathedral can easily be seen across the black fertile soil of the Fens. It is a wonderful region. References Rutterford, M. G. (1964). The Coming of the Lizard Orchid to the Breck. Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc., 13, 24. Rutterford, M. G. (1975). Lizard Orchid (Himantoglossum hircinum) at the Breck, further ten years. Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc., 17, 69. M. G. Rutterford, FLS Drybrook, Undley Road, Lakenheath, Suffolk.

Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. 21

The Lizard Orchid (Himantogiossum hircinum) at Lakenheath-a history of happenings since 1974  

Rutterford, M. G.

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