What makes bee orchids so spe­cial

In our new se­ries about peo­ple with a pas­sion for a species, we ask the pre­sen­ter and writer Alan Titch­marsh why he cares so much about bee orchids?

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Contents - ALAN TITCH­MARSH is a gardener and a tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter. His po­ems are in­cluded in The Glo­ri­ous Gar­den in Po­etry and Mu­sic CD (£10.99).

Why are you a cham­pion of bee orchids?

I’ve al­ways loved bee orchids. We’ve got a place on the Isle of Wight and just along the north coast from where we are there’s a gar­den with a lawn that is full of them. I pop along ev­ery year to have a look. When we moved into our sec­ond home on the is­land I dis­cov­ered I had one or two in my own back gar­den and I started cher­ish­ing those. You can take any­body to see ‘na­ture’s great­est mimic’ – whether they are into flow­ers or not – be­cause it’s full of wow fac­tor. The bee or­chid looks like a bee to at­tract pol­li­na­tors, but in Britain they are self-pol­li­nat­ing so the deception is not re­quired. The fact that the plant is also so rare and un­usual adds to its ap­peal.

When did you first en­counter the bee or­chid?

I’ve lived in Hamp­shire for 30-odd years now, which has chalk down­land flora. Many years ago, I found a bee or­chid while on a walk there. Com­ing across a plant like that was a mo­ment of joy – it’s a real gem. I grew up in York­shire where we didn’t see any, par­tic­u­larly on Ilk­ley Moor where you find mainly heather, bracken and bil­ber­ries.

What are ideal bee or­chid con­di­tions?

The Isle of Wight’s soil is very clay-based and has a shal­low top soil but it is also slightly al­ka­line. Bee orchids are fickle and tem­per­a­men­tal and a gar­den may have 150 one year and two the next. You can’t rely on bee orchids to come up but you hope that your piece of turf is in rea­son­able or­der and that more are on the way. The ar­eas where bee orchids grow can be­come overde­vel­oped, over- cul­ti­vated or over fer­tilised, so we’ve just got to try and keep

the sta­tus quo.

When is the best time to see them?

May or June is the best time to spot bee orchids in full flower in my area – al­though our ex­pert would say June to July fur­ther north – but you can see the rosette de­velop over the win­ter. Pay at­ten­tion to the leaves form­ing among the grass and keep an eye out as the stem and cen­tre emerges.

How can we get chil­dren to learn about wild­flow­ers?

I’m al­ways try­ing to get the pub­lic in­ter­ested in botany and we need to en­cour­age more chil­dren to know and love wild­flow­ers. Plantlife’s Great Bri­tish Wild­flower Hunt helps in­spire peo­ple, es­pe­cially fam­i­lies, to spot and count wild­flow­ers. I don’t think we need to worry about chil­dren pick­ing com­mon flow­ers like but­ter­cups, daisies and dan­de­lions if it helps them to en­gage with na­ture. I al­ways say, “If you only see one of a f lower, then don’t pick it.” At the age of eight I won a prize for dried and pressed f low­ers.

What shall do if I have bee orchids in my gar­den?

If you are lucky enough to have bee orchids grow­ing in your gar­den, try and keep the area where the flow­ers emerge as it is and stick to your reg­u­lar gar­den­ing rou­tine. If it is a piece of grass that you mow now and again – or that you don’t mow – don’t do any­thing dif­fer­ently. Bee orchids come and go so there is no guar­an­tee that they will keep grow­ing. But if you have them, en­joy this fas­ci­nat­ing species. Neil McKim

The bee or­chid de­serves to be cher­ished be­cause it’s rare and full of wow fac­tor.

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