Bracken Bashing and Butterfly Orchids

This month we have mostly been continuing from where we left off last month with bracken bashing and path clearance! We’ve been back to both Coed Simdde Lwyd and Caeau Llety Cybi where there was still lots to bash!

Butterfly orchids at Caeau Llety Cybi

Butterfly orchids at Caeau Llety Cybi

At Caeau Llety Cybi we also did the annual Greater Butterfly Orchid count (and pulled some ragwort). It seems to be a good year for them- we counted 624 compared with a maximum of 363 in previous counts! These are nearly all in one field but there were also more in the second field than has been seen before.

A Wednesday was spent at Rhos Glyn yr Helyg searching out and removing any Himalayan balsam along the river. Luckily we caught it a few years ago before it really took hold and the amount has been dropping as we pull it ever since so this year there wasn’t much at all but what there was was well hidden! I’ll go back in a few weeks time to pull any we missed.

We have also cut the entrance track at Rhos Pil Bach and cleared the brambles from one of the fence lines and had a joint work party at Castle Woods in Carmarthenshire pulling himalayan balsam. Great progress has been made here too. In the next few weeks we’ll be pulling ragwort from most of our grassland reserves and clearing paths of overhanging vegetation.

Thank you very much to everyone who has helped this month. If you would like to volunteer with us in Ceredigion there are work parties twice a week out on the reserves, year round, contact Em on 07980932332 or  find out more about Ceredigion reserves.

As we had mentioned such a large increase in greater butterfly orchids at Caeau Llety Cybi we thought it only right that explored the species a little further.

The greater butterfly orchid is very distinctive and can be found in old hay meadows and unimproved grasslands, such as can be found in Caeau Llety Cybi.  The flower spike can carry around 40 of the vanilla scented flowers.

Greater Butterfly Orchid by Philip Precey

Greater Butterfly Orchid by Philip Precey

It has a single spike up to 60cm tall with significant number of whitish to yellow or green flowers, each with spreading sepals and petals. The lowest petal of each is long, narrow, yellowish green and undivided. Has large pair of broad, shiny, elliptical [and spotless] basal leaves.

It may be confused with lesser butterfly orchids – examine the pollinia [mass of pollen] . Greater butterfly orchids have 2 narrow yellowish green strips side by side just below the hood, 3-4 mm long, about 1.3mm apart at their tips and 4mm at their base. Lesser butterfly orchids are closer together and parallel.

The Latin name for this lovely plant is Platanthera chlorantha the name Platanthera is derived from Greek, meaning “broad anthers”, while the species name, chlorantha, means “greenflowered”.

We don’t really understand the increase in numbers at Caeau Llety Cybi although a wet winter may account for the numbers nearly doubling this year, from speaking to the Orchid Society of Great Britain this does seem a likely explanation but there is currently no research we have been able to find which does support this.