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NATURE Rare orchid blooms again in Westport

Outdoor Living


Rare orchid blooms again in Brackloon

Ciara Moynihan

The extremely rare white orchid, the narrow-leaved helleborine (Cephalanthera longifolia), can be found in Brackloon Woods, just outside of Westport. Also known as the sword-leaved helliborine, I spotted the example pictured last Tuesday evening while out walking along the forest track that runs in a loop through the woods.
Being a member of the orchid family, this elegant plant has an ingenious and distinctive way of becoming pollinated. The Wildflowers of Ireland website reveals its secret: “The flower has an open mouth and on the lower lip is a ‘landing pad’ for bees. When the bee lands, the mouth is forced further open to accommodate the bee as he goes in search of some nectar.  Then the mouth closes and the bee has to turn around and force his way back to the opening, and in doing so he gets covered in pollen. When he is free, he flies off to another flower and in repeating his search for nectar, the pollen gets spread onto the next blossom.”  
If you’re lucky enough to find one of these graceful white orchids, a scattering of which bloom every year in Brackloon Woods, please resist the urge to pick it – this is one of our most threatened orchids. Extinct already in Northern Ireland, this native plant is protected under the 1999 Flora Protection Order in the Republic of Ireland.
If you do spot examples of the narrow-leaved helleborine, or indeed any other rare species of flora, record your sighting for the 2011 wildflower mapping survey at www.biology.ie – you’ll need your GPS coordinates (which I didn’t get, but which give me a great excuse to return to Brackloon Woods this weekend).

At a leisurely stroll, the loop walk at Brackloon Woods takes around an hour. To get to the woods, follow the Leenane Road south of Westport for roughly 6km and take a right at the sign for Owenwee. The entrance is around 250m along on the right.