A young Mayo man has made a wonderful discovery that is being hailed as an important botanical treasure.
Sean Keane is a student Horticulturist at Waterford IT and when the Covid-19 Pandemic hit he decided to stay in Waterford for the lockdown period and take care of a wildflower meadow at the college.
It was in recent times that he made the wonderful discovery of a rare Bee Orchid and the Newport native spoke about it on RTÉ Radio One yesterday, saying how thrilled he was to have made such a discovery.
Sean has been spending his time during the restrictions documenting the new wildflower meadow pollinator habitats established by WIT. Having a passion for biodiversity and the knowledge of what to do to enhance and maintain our vitally important pollinator habitats, Sean has been well placed to evaluate WIT’s All Ireland Pollinator Plan efforts so far.
“It’s been a sight to behold for the past number of weeks with bees, hoverflies, and solitary wasps enjoying the abundant flora,” says Sean. “This flora includes selfheal, hogweed, red and white clover, common bird’s foot trefoil, greater bird’s foot, germander speedwell, cat’s ear and common knapweed. But the real cherry on top has been the emergence of the beautiful and quite rare, bee orchid.”
According to irelandwildlife.com, the Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera) is one of Ireland’s most exquisite wildflowers. At first glance, its exotic looks may make it seem like an interloper from far-flung shores — but this is a native Irish plant through and through.
“Bee orchids are among a small group of orchids that mimic insects to entice pollinators. The scientific term for this pollination strategy is ‘pseudocopulation’,” the website explains. “The bee orchid mimics both the scent and appearance of females of a select few species of solitary bee. The scent entices male bees to investigate, and in their confusion they attempt to mate with the visual mimic presented by the flower’s distinctive bee-like lower lip. The beguiled males move on to visit other flowers and thus pollinate the bee orchid.
“In Ireland, bee orchids tend to flower during June and July. They occur mainly on dry, sandy, calcareous soil — particularly on or around dunes and limestone pasture. A perennial, the plant develops a small loose rosette of leaves in autumn and will continue to grow slowly through the winter. In late spring or early summer it will throw up a flower spike from this basal rosette that will eventually sport from one to twelve flower heads (but usually around two to four).
“Each individual flower is beautifully formed. Three spreading deep-pink sepals frame two short, stumpy green petals and the large, distinctive bee-like lower lip which is reddish-brown, furry, and patterned with greenish-yellow marking. Very occasionally a white derivative of the species may be seen — without the pink pigment in the sepals, but retaining the distinctive bee-like furry lip.”