Like many brownfield sites, the former limestone quarries at Rhoose Point, the southernmost point in Wales, are now a nature-filled paradise, and yesterday one area was positively teeming with these beautiful Marsh helleborines (Epipactis palustris).
As their name implies, these orchids need water to flourish: the First Nature website says ‘This plant thrives in habitats which are usually submerged with water during the winter and maintain high levels of moisture during the summer. Dune slacks are often home to vast colonies, as are fens which are fed by alkaline springs running through limestone rocks – chalk being the other essential element to enable the Marsh Helleborine to flourish.’
I love what Richard Mabey has to say about orchids in Flora Botannica:
These days [their lightweight seed] often fetches up on artificially open habitats, low in nutrients and free of competition (quarries, for example), which replicate orchid-rich natural habitats such as sand dunes and cliff tops. It is this paradoxical, opportunistic quality of many orchids – the exquisite bloom transforming the spoil tip – that has become the basis for the true modern myth of the family, a botanical version of Beauty and the Beast.
The Marsh helleborines (and the many other species of orchid) that grow so well in the old Rhoose quarries are a stunning example of this transformation.