Over the past few months we have been collecting orchid seed from plants around Parc Slip in order to be able to sow our new wildflower meadows with orchid seeds and hopefully get a higher abundance of a variety of orchids in the meadows in the next few years.
To collect the seed we went out around the reserve with volunteers and the Widlife Watch group to spot the plants, which was not easy when they were no longer in flower!
But with plenty of keen eyes looking for them, we found lots of Orchid plants and were able to harvest the seed from them by gently rubbing the seed pods over a paper envelope and catching the tiny seeds that fell out.
We then put the seeds in open-top tubes and nestled the tubes inside sealed Kilner jars filled with dried rice. The rice drew the moisture out of the orchid seed, meaning that after 3 days the seeds were dry enough to seal in their tubes ready to be scattered in the wildflower meadows.
Orchid seeds are one of the smallest seeds of any plant and are so small that they do not even contain enough energy for the seed to germinate on its own.
Orchid seeds therefore require a mycorrhizal fungus in the soil to provide the nutrients they need to germinate and grow.
This starts as a parasitic relationship but may reduce in dependence or end once the germinated seed has developed enough to produce its own leaves to feed itself.
As the seeds are so small, there can be thousands per pod, and by weighing the dry seed mass that we gathered, we estimated that we might have collected as many as 8,750,000 seeds!
As the last of the orchids dry up and shed their final seeds we will be heading to the new wildflower meadows at Parc Slip to scatter the orchid seed that we collected from around the Nature Reserve.
Then we will have to simply wait until next summer to see if we get more orchids in the meadows than before.