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Rare orchid blossoms around Lough Neagh

Last modified: 19 August 2014

Farmland landscapes with Slemish Mountain in the background

Image: Andy Hay

With its spirals of small white flowers resembling the braided hair of a beautiful maiden, the Irish Lady’s Tresses orchid is one of Northern Ireland’s most eye-catching and rarest plants.
The species was first scientifically described by a botanist on an expedition to islands off Alaska in the early 1800s and there are a number of theories as to how the plant may have made its way to our shores.
The seeds are tiny and lightweight so might have been blown across the Atlantic or they could have been transported on the feet or feathers of birds blown off course on migration.
Until this summer, the wet grassland along the western shore of Lough Beg near Toomebridge was one of just a handful of sites in Northern Ireland where the orchid grows.
However, when out surveying at our Portmore Lough reserve near Aghalee in late July, trainee ecologist Anne Guichard was delighted to spot a single orchid in the area known as the ‘hare field’.
Since then, Irish Lady’s Tresses have been blooming in large numbers at both Lough Beg and Portmore, with more than 400 ‘spikes’ recorded to date across both sites.
Irish Lady’s Tresses flourish on wet, grazed meadows which regularly flood, making Portmore Lough and Lough Beg the perfect places to take root.
Portmore Lough warden Amy Burns commented: “We were thrilled find this beautiful plant on our site and it just reaffirms that all the management we undertake here benefits a variety of wildlife and plant life. “Irish Lady’s Tresses are a UK priority species and Northern Ireland has about one-third of the total UK population so it’s vital that the places where the orchid is found are protected.”
Irish Lady’s Tresses are in flower until the end of August so you’d better be quick if you want to spot this stunning species!

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