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03rd Jul 2023

Rare Irish orchid discovered on Trinity lawn following No-mow May

Fiona Frawley

Trinity rare orchid

The plant has reached a height of around two feet since mowing ceased in May.

The lawns in Trinity College Dublin are historically known for being immaculately trimmed with “no walking on the grass” signage billowing in the breeze, but since a nationwide effort to re-wild green spaces got underway in May they’ve sprouted more than 35 species of wild plants.

One such species is the broad-leaved helleborine, a very rare Irish orchid usually only found in woodlands. As per the Irish Times when the orchid has previously been identified in Ireland, only one plant has been found, but there are currently three growing on Trinity’s College Green campus.

The orchid was first spotted by Trinity’s chair of botany Prof Jenny McElwain, after the college stopped mowing its formal lawns to attract bees and other pollinating insects.

The wild plant has tiny purple flowers which are around 10 times smaller than those on the tropical orchid most of us would be more familiar with. There are around 16 to 20 flower heads per plant. Speaking to the Irish Times about the discovery, Prof McElwain said:

“This is super exciting, it is a rare native Irish orchid. If you looked you would find it in most counties in Ireland but you’d probably only find one, and it would pop up so infrequently. It might pop up once and you wouldn’t see it again for 10 years, and three of them have popped up in the lawn.”

Prof McElwain believes that the orchid seeds could have been brought to Trinity by passing birds, but also could have been “lying in wait” on the lawns for decades, waiting for a chance to grow. As the lawns have never been treated with weed killer or or feeds, conditions were perfect for the orchid to grow once mowing stopped in May.

Via Instagram/Trinity College Dublin

Prof McElwain has said that Trinity is currently is currently considering its options for looking after the orchid lawns, but it is likely to opt for “traditional hay meadow management”, which would involve mowing from August to April. She believes that this method will allow seeds to fall in the soil, find their fungal partner and result in even more orchids blooming next year.

Header image via Instagram/Trinity College Dublin 

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