Ashridge should boast about their special plants like the fleawort, or the pasque flower, the green hellebore or the orchids for they need special conditions and protection for growing success. The conservation code kicks in when the Trust need to protect these special plants as in the case of the Violate Helleborine.
This rare orchid is a woodland dweller growing beneath oak or beech, appearing in the summer and flowering in August and September, with each plant displaying an amazing number of tiny orchid-like flowers in delicate shades of pink and green. During September and October the brown seed pods ripen and split open revealing very fine seeds, similar to grains of dust which are wind-blown. Each plant produces vast numbers of seeds since the chance of one getting infected by the correct mycorrhizal soil fungus on landing, and thus being able to germinate, is vanishingly small.
The plant is pollinated by the local wasps which are attracted by the nectar in the cup-shaped part of the lower petal which almost has a narcotic effect, as they are so overcome that they they often fall to the ground in a drunken stupor.
Violate Helleborine is a fickle flower, not very conspicuous, often appearing unexpectedly in new locations. It takes many years for orchid seed to produce a flowering plant. Even after germination, it is usually several years before the first leaf appears above ground. Curiously, most British orchids cannot germinate unless the seed is invaded by a particular soil-borne fungus, and the two then live in symbiosis with the fungus providing nutrients to the orchid. This means that the orchid pseudobulb and its roots under the ground can develop, initially without the need for leaves and photosynthesis.
This variety of orchid is often located in road-side verges or close to pathways which is extraordinary. They therefore run the risk of being destroyed by car parking, or late grass cutting , but the real enemy is the deer population, particularly the small muntjac. Volunteer -made protection guards are therefore positioned over the plants so that they can fulfil their life cycle – aliens have landed in Harding’s Rookery!
Rare plants often attract unwelcome attention but plant hunters are wasting their time trying to collect Violate Helloborine because they are impossible to move successfully – translocation even with an intact root ball always ends in failure. Moving orchids is in effect a death warrant for the plant and is illegal. Wild flowers should remain in their wild situation and garden plants likewise, for moving them becomes in effect an act of gardening, which has no place at Ashridge.