Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera)
The bee orchid is perhaps the most striking plant on site and indeed the logo of the Netherfield Wildlife Group. Unmistakeable with its spikes of bumble bee-like flowers, so convincing they are even velvety to the touch. The flower stalk arises from a rosette of leaves which over winter from the previous autumn. Flowering from June to July the bee orchid can be found in grassland along the south west bank of the Deep Pit, both inside and out. There are also colonies around the edge of the Slurry Lagoon. Individual plants can pop up anywhere along paths and in areas of shorter grassland.
Although the bee orchid mimics an insect it usually self-pollinates as male bees rarely, if ever, visit it. In his book ‘The Private Life of Plants’, David Attenborough wonders whether the plant’s original insect partner was driven out of Britain during the last Ice Age. On continental Europe there are almost a hundred different species of orchid whose flowers mimic insects and they all have certain pollinating species associated with them.
Another observation regarding bee orchids is made by Richard Mabey in his book ‘Flora Britannica’, who has observed bee orchids appearing in large numbers on disturbed soils for a few years before vanishing, so we mustn’t take ours for granted! Indeed numbers on the outer bank of the Deep Pit have declined over the years as the vegetation there has grown up.
Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)
Lesser celandine marks the beginning of spring, blooming from March to May with the first flowers appearing as early as February on occasion. It is easy to find as the only other plant in flower this early is colt’s foot (Tussilago farfara). Although both yellow, lesser celandine is unmistakeable with its shiny yellow star-like flowers and dark green glossy heart shaped leaves. It grows on open and disturbed soil in damp places such as ditches, woodland tracks and shady gardens. At Netherfield it can be found in places in the ditch alongside the lower path and in profusion underneath the mature willows which grow in the corner of the area surrounding the Large Gravel Pit. (Grid reference on Netherfield map – M9).
It is a member if the buttercup family and therefore no relation to greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) which is a member of the poppy family. Richard Mabey says the name ‘celandine’ derives from the Greek chelidon – a swallow, and suggests that this may be because the lesser celandine was seen as a ‘plant swallow’ ‘the flower that, like the bird, signalled the arrival of spring’.
By June all trace of the plant has gone, its energy stored in small underground tubers awaiting the coming of the next spring. The resemblance between these knobbly tubers and haemorrhoids gave the plant another name; Pilewort. It was because of this that herbalists in the past prescribed lesser celandine for the treatment of piles.
Pyramidal Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis)
The pyramidal orchid is the least common orchid found at Netherfield Lagoons. It is usually found growing in old semi natural calcareous grassland but also occurs in less natural situations such as roadside verges and here at Netherfield around the Deep Pit (in grid squares H7 and G9). Its dome-shaped to conical pinkish-red spike can occasionally be found in grassland, flowering from June to early August. It is said to be clove-scented or foxy smelling.
Orchids generally can be unpredictable in nature with abundance varying from one year to another. Their seeds do not contain enough nourishment to germinate and produce a plant the following spring. To provide nourishment the seed relies on fungus present in the soil. This symbiotic relationship between the orchid roots and the fungus can take several years to develop before the roots are ready to produce a plant.
Meadow Crane’s-bill (Geranium pratense)
Meadow crane’s-bill is the largest of the six species of the Geranium family found at Netherfield lagoons. The long pointed seed pods give the plant its name, ‘geranus’ being the Greek word for crane. It can be found growing in the grassland around the Large Gravel Pit (L6) and along the lower path. Its beautiful violet-blue flowers can be seen from June to September. Meadow crane’s-bill is on the Nottinghamshire Local Biodiversity Action Plan’s list of vascular plants of conservation concern in the county. It is the food plant of the Brown Argus (Aricia agestis) butterfly which also occurs on site.