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We are fortunate in the park to have one of the best displays of Greater Butterfly Orchids (Platanthera chlorantha) nationally. This plant with its lovely vanilla coloured flower spikes grows in old meadows and other unimproved grasslands and during the months of June and July appear in the in large numbers. During July we held two successful orchid events which were both quite different but closely related.
Firstly we hosted a talk which was given by Roy Sexton of the Scottish Wildlife Trust Stirling Branch, who is considered very knowledgeable in his field. It was a great evening, very interesting and not at all stuffy and was enjoyed by everyone who came along. We learned about the life cycle, necessary soil conditions and amongst other things that the flower holds on to its scent during the day then releases it in the evening. The strong-heavy aroma is 12X greater during the evening when the scent attracts the silver Y moth which drinks the sweet nectar and pollinates the plant. It was Roy who called us "custodians of the orchids" as the type of habitat in which they grow is in decline and under threat. We must do everything we can to ensure they continue to flourish and why we are protective of our meadows. We then had a walk in the meadows where we saw many of these striking plants and found, for the first time for those present, a small orchid known as a Twayblade. This plant is fairly common in Scotland but particularly difficult to see as it blends so well into its surroundings.
Our second event is one which takes place every year when volunteers, led by our Countryside Ranger Jennifer Davidson, count each and every Greater Butterfly spike around the park. By recording the numbers each year it allows us to look for any great variations which can then be investigated. There are many factors which can come into play here including the obvious one of the weather however without the job of recording we would not perhaps realise that there was a problem. The numbers logged that day will be reported on at a later date but indications are that the numbers are up on last year.
The plants are most densely populated in the main meadow situated in front of the Plean House ruin, however they also grow on the flat meadow which is up hill off the North Drive and now in increasing numbers in the Field of Luckiness in front of the Stable block ruin. There is another area close to the boundary of the park which has a significant orchid population and is an area of ground which currently has planning permission to allow house building. The ground concerned lies between the park and the East Plean Primary School and a survey of the plants has been carried out which provided a report regarding the translocation of the plants to the park. They must be moved before any site works can commence. Given the importance of these orchids we must all be on the lookout for such activity.