The ghost orchid still haunts British woods

Photo by Andy Swash

The location is a secret: somewhere in Herefordshire, and in an oak wood.  So secret that it’s taken several months to even disclose the news of its finding to the public.

The last sighting of the Ghost Orchid (Epipogium aphyllum) was in Buckinghamshire back in 1986 and in 2005 it was declared extinct.  But amateur botanist sleuth Mark Jannink never gave up.  He runs a motorbike business for a living, but his passion is wild flowers, and last September his persistence paid off.

Extremely elusive, the Ghost Orchid can bide its time underground for years without flowering.  It has no leaves and no chlorophyll at all: a fungus growing on the roots supplies it with food.  Not relying on photosynthesis, it can live in dark densely-canopied woods, occasionally flowering among the leaf litter.  Ghost Orchid seekers go into the woods armed with torches to pick out its pale waxen petals, which, on close inspection, are spotted violet.  Thanks to Mark Jannink, the species has now been bumped off the Extinct list to the one for Critically Endangered.

The photograph, which beautifully captures the Ghost orchid’s eeriness, is from the extremely informative

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