Saturday 17 August 2019

Spotting orchids on the North Bull

Joe Kennedy

A friendly plants hunter sent images of orchids he had photographed on North Bull Island, the original sanctuary for wild birds on Dublin's northside.

James Jordan, of Cork city, was visiting his native Dublin and made a trip to this unique place of birds and flora which developed from a sandbank and was established as an official sanctuary in 1931. The Rev PG Kennedy SJ (no relation) wrote an excellent book about the place and birds thereon, An Irish Sanctuary - Birds of the North Bull, published in 1953, now a collector's item.

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The North Bull is best known as a gathering place for great numbers of seabirds and feeding waders in its estuaries and mudflats but it is also home to at least eight species and hybrids of orchids - for many an unusual flowering plant that belongs to an exotic, closed society known only to botanists. But this is not really so as orchids may be found in many places. We just have to go out looking for them. But they are not easily spotted.

Two vivid memories: one on the green acreage at the unique eco-house of the late Liam Clancy when it was being built at Ring in Waterford many years ago, the other while driving on the coastal road near Portmarnock in Fingal when my passenger noticed plants on an area of uncut roadside sward.

I cannot recall their names but James Jordan has identified three orchids he found on the North Bull: marsh helleborine (Epipactis palustris or cuachin corraigh); pyramidal (Anacamptis pyramidalis or magairlin na stuaice), pictured above, and common spotted (Dactylorhiza fuchsii or nuacht bhallach).

The North Bull and the glorious unspoilt Burren may be the two best known sites to go to for orchid-spotting but there are many other places throughout the countryside with rare species, both in the Republic and the North, being legally protected.

One gem is called Irish Lady's Tresses, a tall, pale plant which may be seen during this month. Rare and protected, this Spiranthes romanzoffiana or cuilin gaelach likes open, grassy areas which may have been flooded in wintertime.

It has an interesting backstory. Of North American stock and called there Three-fold Lady's Tresses (describing its plump ringlet of dainty tubular flowers), it is only found on this side of the Atlantic here and in Scotland.

The Collins Press published a superb field guide some years ago called Ireland's Wild Orchids by Brendan Sayers, of the National Botanic Gardens, with brilliant illustrations by Susan Sex, a Linnean Society prizewinner. It has useful location maps.

Sunday Independent

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