Thursday 3 December 2015

Red Helleborine Research Report

Back in June I collaborated with David Armstrong, Lead Ranger from the National Trust Cotswold reserves, and his team when they came to France to research the rare Red Helleborine orchid Cephalanthera rubra. David is based at the Ebworth Centre.

Red Helleborine near Chaumussay.
The orchid is critically endangered in England and the National Trust, Natural England and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew are trying to establish what the species requires to reproduce. Without this information they can't begin to propagate it from the few precious seeds the English plants produce.

Red Helleborine in the Claise Valley.
Last week he sent me the report of the team's visit to the Touraine and has given me permission to quote it on the blog. So here are his General Observations:

  • All the sites were within or adjacent to woodland on limestone, dominated by downy oak.
  • All of the sites were on slopes.
  • The woodlands appear to be “natural”, with no real indication that they have been planted, and probably ancient in nature.
  • The woodlands showed signs that their management is low intensity, generally coppice for firewood. There was no sign of any very recent management. There were very few very large standards, but some old coppice stools.
  • The sites are privately owned and none of the sites are managed for their conservation interest.
  • Most plants were within a few meters of downy oak trees, but plants were not seen very close to trunks.
  • Plants were seen in open ground up to 10m from the more mature trees, but close to saplings.
  • None of the sites were dark or heavily shaded. Although we did not spend time searching deeper within the woodlands. (Susan Walter concurs with this).
  • Dappled shade, wood edge, tracks appeared to be favoured.
  • Plants can exist in very open conditions.
  • The flowers were often open very wide, more so than we have observed at Workmans’ Wood.
  • Clumps of many flower stems were seen in places.
  • Few if any non-flowering plants were seen, but these could have been missed. Susan’s impression is that if they come up they flower reliably here.
  • All of the sites included many different species of orchid.
  • All three species of Cephalanthera were present at most of the sites. “Where you get one Cephalanthera you tend to get all three”.
  • Juniper was common on all but one site.
  • Only one beech tree was seen!
  • There were many plants across the site and the collection of seed pods or root material would have little or no impact on the populations.
  • It is possible to enjoy a civilised lunch break sampling the local plat de jour within easy reach of all of these sites.
You can read my blog posts on the National Trust teams visit here and here

Red Helleborine in the Claise Valley.
Now the project is on the move again, with Jon Kendon, from the Royal Botanic Gardens, having applied for permission to take protocorms (tiny bulbs) from the wild in the Claise Valley. Jon's job title is Lab Technician, Analytical Methods (In Vitro Biology), Comparative Plant and Fungal Biology Department. He's based at the world famous gardens at Kew, on the western edge of London. We are not very hopeful of getting permission in this case, but it might set the scene for us getting permission to collect seed in the late summer. The Red Helleborine, although rare and localised here too, probably sets thousands more viable seeds than it needs or will ever grow here, so seed collecting will probably be viewed by the authorities as a safe request. Collecting protocorms is more unusual and although I am sure they will be sympathetic to the project's desire to identify the mycorrhizal partners of the orchid in the soil, they may feel it is not appropriate to grant the request given their remit to protect the plant in France. If we do get permission to go after the protocorms, the work will be done in mid-February, so it is likely to be cold out there on the limestone slopes where the orchids grow.

Red Helleborine by the side of a track on a limestone ridge near Panzoult.
So far Kew has had very little success in propagating the species. Partly this is because the English plants don't flower well and don't produce viable seeds. But it is also because they don't know what fungal partners the orchid requires in the soil. The English plants are so few in number that they dare not take material from them. Hence the request to take samples in France, where there are several localised but thriving colonies.

Corinne takes a photo of a Red Helleborine on a botanical outing to Panzoult.

Car for Sale: Is anyone looking for a car? Our 1999 Renault Megane Scenic 1.9td is surplus to requirements: we were going to keep it as a potager wagon, but it is the fourth car in the garage and has been used exactly once in the past two month. It goes, but has issues - it'll need two tyres before it passes a CT, and it tends to leak electricity. If you're looking for a gardenwagon and have 100€, drop us a line before mid afternoon Friday and you can have it as is. It's been a good car for us, done many kms, and we will be sad to see it go - but it would be nice to think it'd have a life after us.

Before we take it to the wreckers we thought we would ask here if anyone wants it.

If you're thinking of buying an electric car (we were, but they're not quite ready for us) it could be worth a lot more than 100 euros: trade it in the right way and it could be worth up to 7,000€!


Le Pré de la Forge said...

"It is possible to enjoy a civilised lunch break sampling the local plat de jour within easy reach of all of these sites"....

That is SO important...
the best part of the day in fact!!

Reading that summary, you realise just how little wood there is of that nature in the UK...
the only place where I have come across it is the Cotswolds...
and in the Guildford, Dorking through to Redhill/Reigate valley anong the North Downs Way.
A very interesting summary.
Especially the last line...

As for the car, we'll give you a ring...
how much CT has it got left...
and what do you mean by "leaks electricity"...
when did you last replace the battery?
She does seem to be in better nick than poor old Gaspode...
and is she Gazole or Essence?

Le Pré de la Forge said...

Forget that last question... she's a TD!
So what does she give on a tank?

Le Pré de la Forge said...

Just a thought....
would they be allowed to take soil samples from near the colonies...
that might give pointers...
and if they could take enough to grow in???...
might give answers, too!

Emm said...

Timing is off for the car. I might need one for a few months, but not until later in the winter at earliest. Alas.

Susan said...

Stay in touch about the car if you want it. We now have until 4 February to make a decision about it.

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