EARLY SPIDER ORCHID, OPHRYS
R E A P P E A R S IN S U F F O L K MARTIN SANFORD
On June 2nd, 1991 Lynne Farrell of English Nature discovered a Single plant of Early Spider Orchid in open breck grassland in TL78, West Suffolk. The plant was growing on the edge of an old pit and had one open flower and three buds (the species normally flowers in late April and early May; individual flowers wither and fade quickly so that spikes are rarely round with all the flowers out at the same time). The following day Mrs. E. M. Hyde (BSBI Recorder), Dr. A. Brenchley (Conservation Officer, English Nature) and Mrs. G. Crompton visited the site with Lynne. The spike had been damaged, probably by a violent hailstorm but it could have been a snail. Close-up photographs were taken and, as it was damaged, the top flower was removed and sent to Jeffrey Wood of the Orchid Herbarium at Kew for positive identification and verification. He was able to confirm that it was indeed Ophrys sphegodes. Recent warm summers and mild winters must have enabled the plant to reach flowering size from wind-blown seed which could easily have come from the continent or from southern counties. Plants are normally quite slow to get established so it might have been there for several years prior to its discovery. As it is such a rare and vulnerable species the precise location of the site must remain confidential and I would request those who know its precise whereabouts to keep them secret. The plant produced leaves in autumn 1991 and was closely monitored throughout the growing season; at the time of writing (spring 1992) there is still only a basal leaf rosette showing with no indication as to whether it will flower again. This most exciting discovery is the first record of this species in Suffolk for 200 years and the first north of the River Thames for a very long time. It was last recorded in Suffolk in 1793 when a specimen was collected 'near Bury', probably by the Rev. G. R. Leathes. This specimen is now in the herbarium at Ipswich Museum. Some naturalists at that time referred to the Breck as 'near Bury' but other old records from Sicklesmere and Saxham suggest that it was from the area south and west of Bury which, at that time, still contained areas of suitable sheep-grazed chalk grassland. It is interesting to note that the winter of 1793/94 is recorded by the diarist Parson Woodforde of Weston Longville, Norfolk as being extremely cold with prolonged frosts. Although not as severe as the 'Little Ice Age' of the 17th Century, this cold period at the end of the 18th Century may have been as significant in the decline of this rare species as habitat destruction. Early Spider Orchid is now a very rare plant in Britain and is protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It is found in Kent, Sussex, Dorset, Hampshire and Gloucestershire mainly on chalk and often on sites near the sea. It has been suggested that the southern distribution of this species is due to its preference for a warm climate. As an early
Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. 28 (1992)
EARLY SPIDER O R C H I D , OPHRYS
flowering species it is particularly susceptible to damage from late spring frosts. It is widespread in western and central Europe, especially around the Mediterranean where it shows many variations and subspecies. I thank Lynne Farrell, Enid Hyde and Yvonne Leonard for providing details of this record. Martin N. Sanford Suffolk Biological Records Centre, Ipswich Museum, High Street, Ipswich IP1 3 Q H
Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. 28 (1992)
Plate 6: Early Spider Orchid (Ophrys sphegodes). This rare species was rediscovered in Suffolk in 1991. (p. 44).