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Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii)

May 17th - Slievenacloy


I had visited Slievenacloy on a lovely sunny March day with views to the Mournes and the Sperrins but it was hard to imagine that those brown rushy fields would become multi-coloured in a couple of months time. Slievnacloy Nature Reserve is a mosaic of different habitats - wet heathland, rush pasture and species-rich grassland with fen, bog and a stream system, so there is a great diversity of plants.

We saw at least 5 species of the Buttercup family –clumps of the bright yellow sepals of the petalless Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris), the spear-shaped leaves of Spearwort (Ranunculus flammula) which grows in very wet places, Bulbous Buttercup with down-turned sepals (Ranunculus bulbosus) on limy ground, as well as Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens) with furrowed stalks and the taller Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus acris).

Lousewort is a hemi-parasite, getting nutrition from the roots of other plants, so the bright pink–purple flowers of both Pedicularis sylvatica and Pedicularis palustris were conspicuous in the shorter grass. The bright blue flowers of Milkwort (Polygala serpyllifolia) formed a contrast. Nearby were patches of Bitter Vetchling (Lathyrus linifolius). Linifolius means ‘with flax-like leaves’ so it is more akin to a pea than a vetch.

The plentiful leaves of Devilsbit Scabious (Succisa pratensis) should indicate this as a site attractive to Marsh Fritillaries. Early Purple Orchids (Orchis mascula), both purple and pink, were in full flower and the first Heath-spotted Orchids (Dactlyorhiza maculata) were appearing. Twayblades (Neottia/Listera ovata) were in leaf but we were too early for Butterfly Orchids (Platanthera).

The lime-kiln provides a lime-rich habitat and the roof was almost covered with Adderstongues Ferns (Ophioglossum vulgatum) as well as the leaves of Mouse-ear Hawkweed (Pilosella officinarum) and Fairy Flax (Linum catharticum).

After lunch we walked downhill past The Ring, a prime site for Waxcaps later in the year, and along the banks of the Stoneyford River where Water Avens (Geum rivale) and Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla glabra) were flourishing.

This is a wonderful place which is worth visiting at different times of the year to see all its botanical specialities.

Margaret Marshall

We looked at two sedges and repeated the mantra all sedges have triangular stems but not all triangular stems are sedges. 

In these examples the male flower was at  the top of the stem with the female flowers below, male and female flowers being obviously different.

Glaucous Sedge (Carex flacca) is glaucous (blue/grey) beneath the leaves and the utricles or seeds look swollen. In the Common Sedge (Carex nigra) female spikelets blackish and quite compact.

We compared these to the aptly named Ribwort (Plantago lanceolata) which can look a bit sedge/rush-like when the anthers have dropped. However, this has a ribbed and not triangular stem.

The most obvious grasses were the silky, golden Sweet Vernal (Anthoxanthum odoratum), one of the earliest grasses to flower, and Foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis) whose orange anthers made it look like a fox’s brush.

The predominant rush was the smooth stemmed Soft Rush (Juncus effusus) and the smooth pith centre distinguished from the grasses and sedges. This plant is an indicator of waterlogged or poorly drained fields.

P.S. Fairy Flax (Linum catharticum) was growing happily in the centre of the laneway and in the car park!

Marion Allen


Adders Tongue

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Common or Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris)

Orange Tip (anthocharis  cardamines)