Monday, June 20, 2011

Never the tway....

Two years ago, after a holiday exploring Hadrian's Wall, we decided to drive to Scotch Corner, via Alston & Barnard Castle. I'd never explored the north Pennines and wanted to 'take a peak'. It was a dreary day, with low cloud, wind and heavy drizzle. But the landscapes were tremendous. We stopped for a 'comfort break' just next to an imposing sign warning us we were entering Co. Durham.

After a mug of tea and a chewy bar, I decided to take a peak in the straggly heather growing on the hagged peat just down the road. This revealed an unexpected botanical treasure.

It looked like a twayblade but way smaller. The plant above is about 1.5cm high - almost lost in its bed of sphagnum moss. A further search revealed a few more mature plants (still only about 8cm high).

This is one of our most secretive and diminutive orchids; lesser twayblade, Neottia cordata (formerly Listera cordata). A quick survey (it was wet, windy cold remember) discovered 28 plants in the near vicinity. The record was sent to BSBI and I believe this was a new site for this species :)

We drove down through Upper Teesdaler spotting globeflower, northern marsh orchid, blah, blah, blah, in the verges. Put a note in diary to return for a holiday.

When I got home I told Dr. Henry Oakeley (President of The Orchid Society of Great Britain) about the twee tways. To my delight and astonishment he published my (edited) email to him and my photos in the society's journal (2009, Volume 58, Number 3, page 145). The whole edition is available on their website but it is a large download. Below is the relevant page. (Their journal (no paywall so chapeau to them) is worth a gander as there is an article (the President's letter) just before the lesser twayblade, about its larger cousin Neottia ovata and also notes on pollination in Ophrys insectifera (fly orchid)).

So let's get up to date. Finally, last week, we visited Upper Teesdale for a holiday. Fantastic place (more to come later). We went back to the lesser twayblade site (the GPS was bang on) and found 12 plants. Again the weather was wretched for my point and shoot camera so photos are pretty poor again. Gah.

Here is a baby plant almost dwarfed by a star moss.

And here is a plant only 5cm tall.

Later in the week, I called the car to a halt by some hagged peat with straggly heather by the side of the road over to Weardale. Just incase....

Happiness! There, under the heather, invisible unless you searched for them, were some lesser tways. The one in the photo below is about 15cm tall. The weather was, as per usual wet, windy and dull, so this is the best shot I got. We counted 50 plants in the vicinity. I don't know if this site is known about (I'm waiting for the botanical county recorder to get back to me on that).

I wonder how the widespread heather burning for grouse shoots in this area is impacting on this stunning little plant. I suspect negatively. I'd love to do a PhD on it!

There is an excellent webpage on lesser twayblade, by Trees for Life, here.

EDIT: My dad (not botanically minded) asked after the tweeblades the other day! Rather appropriate.


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  2. Hi Mel, i am heading up to Teesdale this weekend. I live in the peak district and have spent the last three years searching for Lesser Twayblade on the high moors where it was last recorded in the 40's ... to no avail! I know how hard it is to find even when you have a grid reference but wondered if there was anyway you could give me the grid reference for the colony you discovered? Would love to see them!
    All the best, Byron Machin (