- An occasional series of longer Reports and Studies -

“EF12. Operation Spiranthes: 2013
People... Plants... Places...

Some thoughts, from our 2013 Spiranthes season, on
International Botany and the Links that bind us!

Main links to our Spiranthes pages are: Species Study / Specimens 2008 / History / 6yr. mapping / Portraits 2010 / World Distribution

Plants and People:

We only do an Environmental Feature infrequently, sometimes about long term issues that are worrying us, sometimes to collect groups of photographs together. But this time it is a very good-news story — things that made us happy and things we feel we want to share with others.

The main character in our tale — the plant, Spiranthes romanzoffiana, arrived this Summer, firstly seemingly in healthy numbers, then worryingly declining, then new ground found, and many people charmed by their very rare and precarious occurrence around Lough Allen — an intrinsic part of our landscape and our biodiversity. There is a story (an improbable one) that these plants may have come from the North American continent carried by White-fronted Geese migrating from Greenland — or else they may have been here for thousands of years? On the other hand, there is the definite fact that people have traveled far across Europe to see Ireland's rare Orchids.

Last week it was our pleasure to meet 10 keen Botanists who travelled to Lough Allen to enjoy our Biodiversity, to view the rare Irish Lady's Tresses and to share their knowledge of Orchid biology from around Europe. We have loved the company of people from the Czech Republic, England, Germany and Ireland, not to mention those local Botanists whom we have met over the years. Isn't it wonderful when people of such diverse backgrounds come together for a simple plant? People you might think you could not understand? But then you see the earnest look, the worried searching through wet grassland, the lifting of brows when a plant is found, the sheer joy when grown men and women see something they have known about for years. The hint of a smile when we realise that we have all the same passion, like others would have for Music or Art. And the happiness when language is transcended and we can just laugh, eat together, and maybe share some remarkable Apricot Brandy!

This year our Spiranthes survived and delivered the promise we made on www.LoughAllenBasin.com But will it always be so? For us, this has been a stressful year. These orchids arrived a bit late, then came up in an area we thought safe but, unfortunately, proved to be unsafe. It was a place we have known over many years and where Summer shore grazing has never been a problem. But, shortly after we found them a hungry herd of Cows and calves moved through the small patch of shoreline devouring everything before them. However, it is necessary that such shores should be grazed as, if they are not, no Spiranthes will grow. They are simply suffocated by dense high grass well established at the time they emerge in mid July.

We have been advised by people in the Botanic Gardens, and other experienced Botanists, who have known this species longer than we have, what conditions they think are suitable for Spiranthes. We, in turn, have contributed our knowledge and helped expand the known occurrence of this species around Lough Allen. We have also talked to the owners of all sites where Spiranthes has been found and have sought the permission of other owners to walk land which seems suitable and where this orchid has not yet been found. In this way the pattern of distribution around Lough Allen has been built up along with knowledge of the threats and risks to the survival of this very valuable plant both at Lough Allen and in Ireland. It is possible that this species could disappear from Ireland and from Scotland and then there will be none at all in the whole Palaearctic (Asia and Europe)!

The most experienced botanist of our Czech visitors, Rudolf, was very surprised when we explained that Lough Allen had no special status and that no formal provision had been put in place to protect this species. He was, of course, right and with the local support we have now may be an opportune time to try and establish a basis for conservation of this species that will enrich the whole community. Rudolf had the least english but the most experience of Orchids in the Czech Republic and shared with us a huge enthusiasm and knowledge of his country's flora built up over many years. He would look intensely at us, smile, and then go into the most detailed description of his life with plants — in very quickly spoken and very technical Czech! Fortunately his friends Jan and George were always around to translate. Even then we often had to fall back on that common language, Latin, to clear up ambiguities.



Two little places which had no name, but we refer to them as Spiranthes Islands as we found orchids here in 2008

Smelling the breeze, looking beyond the breaking waves on the shore, and hearing about the two islands which we now call 'Spiranthes Islands', Rudolf wondered what we were saying and then chortled to himself... "Spiranthes Islands! Good..." This amused him and he kept repeating that phrase and laughing. “Can we go out?” But there were no specimens there this year. The beauty of the Drumshanbo end of the lake made a big impression on all our visitors.

We must appreciate the interest of all involved  ... Rudolf, Jan and George; Leif and Steff; Petra and Claire; Marie and Ron... also the distance some people had travelled to view this special plant. We also would like to acknowledge the help of some local observers who keep us informed. Many thanks to you all!




Leif and Steff were two highly accomplished young Botanists from England who were on a mission to study all the Orchids of the British Isles this year (before he goes to Oxford!). Leif had some useful insights... the belief that this species was found in Ireland before Britain. Sounds convincing but we had not heard this before.

Steff is a professional photographer. It was great to see this pair working hard to accomplish their goal and help record the Spiranthes of Lough Allen (and other parts of Ireland) — throwing themselves into it (and onto the wet ground) with gusto!

We were so pleased when they first contacted us, through this website, and it was a pleasure to work with them. As their trip was being arranged we got a message from Jan Viewegh that the group from the Czech Republic was planning a trip.

Within days they too were on their way — having read our reports that the plants had emerged. (We didn't tell them those specimens had been eaten!)




The Cast (of one)

Irish Lady’s Tresses

Spiranthes romanzoffiana

a type of Orchid with spirally arranged flowers

exceedinly rare in Europe found only in Ireland and Scotland

decreasing in Ireland and affected by Summer rains

discovered in 1828 in Alaska during a survey run
by the then Russian Governor, Romanzoff

first recorded in Ireland (and Britain) in 1810 in Catletownbere

defined by Webb as being a ‘glacial relict’ (survivor of the Ice age)
though possibly could be a more recent arrival?

discovered in Lough Allen in 2001

surveyed by us since 2008

numbers here variable but tending to decrease

34 flowered so far this, mainly at this site

Conservation plans needed... this is too unique to lose!



Close up of the delicate flowers of one of the best Drumshanbo specimens seen this year.

But all's well that ends well! We promoted our place, we were invigorated by new friends, and we had a badly needed weekend of celebration! This has been a fortnight of surprises but Drumshanbo won out in the end. Spiranthes is widely regarded as a plant that may emerge, disappear some years and, then, come back again — as it has been doing for centuries? But this species has (we believe) disappeared from England and is found only in Britain in the Western Isles (Inner and Outer Hebrides). They still refer to the colony in Dorset as 'not having been seen for years!' We think it is gone. It is dangerous to rely on an assumption that this species can survive in the ground for many years when actually it may be dying out?

To lose Spiranthes romanzoffiana from Lough Allen and from Europe would be a very significant extinction globally and a considerable loss to this area. The amount of people who study these plants is huge, and the amount of people dedicated to the hobby of Photography is truly amazing — and growing every year. Long may it last, and long may this small part of Europe serve as a resevoir for this wonderful plant! We are amazed at the response our Log generated this year; we never actually attempted to promote the idea of Botanical Tourism to this area. Next year, WE WILL!


ABOVE: Our 3 Czech mates having their first encounter with the
intriguing Spiranthes romanzoffiana.

RIGHT: Petra a keen local Botanists who protects other orchid species where she farms. Her first time seeing this species also...

BELOW: Our 3 distinguished (and charming visitors) pose
with Frances before they leave us...

Drumshanbo: the Winner!

If you look at our 6 year Mapping you can see that we express an opinion that this species is moving north, not only in the British Isles but also in Lough Allen! This year there was a reversal. Even apart from the damage on the north shore, this species has produced fewer specimens in that area than in previous years. Two sites have suffered habitat change but are now recovering. The other site, along the east shore of Annagh Lake (an inlet of Lough Allen), has suffered no change but has not seen any Spiranthes so far this year. Last year there were 4 specimens here; in 2011 there were 12. No reason is known for this decline?

Last year, the area on the east shore near Drumshanbo (shown in these Photos) had this species present for the first time since 2008. After a very good year in 2008 when Orchids were present nearly all around the lake, none were found on the south or western shores for 3 years, apart from very small numbers at Holly Island south of the Shannon. They reappeared north of Drumshanbo last year. 2013, also, has been saved by Drumshanbo! 26 Spiranthes have emerged here and have mostly survived — one attacked but not eaten by Slugs!

It was to this area that we brought all our visitors. Walking some distance through high very wet grasses and rushes it was heartening to see the delight of people viewing something that they knew existed in very small numbers. Some laughed, some were stunned into silence. George, indeed, spotted his first Orchid without even being shown where it was. In our panic to fulfill our promise we had walked close by it without even seeing it! These pictures show some of our visitors working hard to record this species. Our English contacts, Leif and Steff, had a hard day of it — a lovely bright breezy day but the wind was so strong that the flowers were bouncing all over the place and hard to focus on. We hope they got some good records?

Jiří (George), Jan and Rudolf enjoyed calmer weather and became almost blasé after seeing all our finds and helping us to discover another few. We talked and walked and photographed for hours, came home for lunch and, then, sent them off to Mullaghmore in search of more species. They then enjoyed a good tour of north west Ireland before returning to Drumshanbo safe and sound!


The Czech Republic.

Jiří Janovskŷ, Mladá Boleslav (Left)
Jan Viewegh, Brno
Rudolf Dundr, Lovosice
Frances Farrell, Drumshanbo

Jiri, a Physician, is from Mlada Boleslav. Jan (a Geologist) came from Brno, and Rudolf (the great big smiling Bear of a Vet) was from Lovosice in the foothills of the Bohemian Mountains. Here are found many beautiful plants of which Pulsatilla patens seems to be almost a National or regional symbol.

From the literature they presented to us, this is a beautiful country — a Botanists dream. You should visit it! We hope to — and their warmth and humour is so infectious, we will have to! The sheer number and varieties of orchids and helleborines they have there is amazing — a panoply of Wildflowers. If you click on... BOTANY.cz it will bring you to that Herbarium (e.g. Spiranthes spiralis which is found in both the Czech Republic and Ireland — unlike Spiranthes romanzoffiana!)

Two other conversations stick in our minds. The Iron Curtain fences ran between the Czech Republic and Germany. Everyone was delighted to see the end of this — but this narrow long strip of no-man's land is a haven for Wildlife. Removing it all would remove the protection that this zone in the middle of Europe has had for more than half a Century. Also Jan reminded us of the Prague Spring when he was a young man and when Soviet Tanks came into Czechoslakia; now both Countries are part of the EU. It is good to hear the world becoming a better place and to know that there are so many wonderful places only a couple of hours away from Lough Allen...

The Orchid Society to which these men belonged has been long established and during hard times has compiled a magnificient collection of line drawings of the Orchids and Helleborines of their changing Country.



Pasque flower, a typical Czech plant (Pulsatilla patens)

PHOTO thanks to Rudolf Dundr


So, all happy; all satisfied; new friends found... now we must work harder to protect our rare and endangered Irish plants.. and not just for our own sake?

Rudolf Dundr, working at his craft.




From Drumshanbo to Prague! Safe home to
the Czech Republic...

and thanks for visiting our little Republic.

Cya soon!