The rare Lizard Orchid, Himantoglossum hircinum, has a taste for golf. Its UK distribution is limited. Nonetheless, it exhibits a distinct preference for the sparse grassy habitats available in the rough on Southern golf courses. It particularly favours stable dune environments at the seaside. Lizard Orchids are thriving and increasing on Burnham and Berrow Golf Course in Somerset. Why?
Ordinarily, golf courses are exclusive clubs where groundsmen seek to recreate their own version of the legendary Belfry fairways. Grass is kept in top notch condition with chemicals, watering, rolling and constant mowing. Perish the sight of a weed.
Golf and Nature Together
Burnham and Berrow Golf Course prides itself on being a nature conservation area advised by Natural England as well as a golf course. You might think that quality golf is sacrificed. The course is ranked number 1 in Somerset. Golf Monthly recently rated the championship course at number 28 in the country’s top 100 golf courses. While looking after nature, the course has progressively improved its ranking by 19 places in just over a decade.
A Different Approach
I recently met the groundsman while botanising on the course one quiet, sunny evening. He was busy preparing the course for a forthcoming, competitive event. He expressed pride in the course’s natural bounty, efforts to increase its stewardship status and avoidance of chemicals. The encouragement of my botanical interest stood as a stark contrast to my experience on another local golf course during the Coronavirus lockdown. Locally, I was asked to leave an interesting area, ostensibly because of high chemical usage. At Burnham and Berrow, I was given tips on where to find the Lizard Orchids, their current state of flowering and the offer of a guided visit for my local botanical group.
Spot the Hidden Orchid
Lizard Orchids may be tall, but their colours are not always easy to spot amid tall grass and other vegetation (see examples below).
Lizard Orchids are an extraordinary sight. Once seen, never forgotten. Despite their height, their camouflage makes it easy to walk by without noticing. Why are they called after lizards? Each floret has petals and sepals that are reputed to look like a lizard’s head. Can you spot the legs and long, twisting tail in the photo below? The Latin genus name originates from Greek for strap-tongue, while the epithet means goat-like for its smell. I cannot say that I noticed it. Maybe that is because it is strongest at night or that I was treading carefully at a respectful distance?
Pollination Con Artist?
I did notice a pollinator on one flower below. It seems that the Lizard Orchid may be another trickster like the Bee Orchid giving no, or at least little, reward to its pollinators.
An Example to Follow?
Burnham and Berrow Golf Course is a botanical hotspot even without the presence of Lizard Orchids. I spotted 3 other types of Orchid during my visit and many other interesting species. I hope that many other golf courses will take a leaf out of Burnham and Berrow’s book and play a greater role in nature conservation in future. There are 3,000 golf courses in the UK, amounting to approximately 126,000 hectares of green space. Not all that land is central to the game of golf. The rough is great for wild flowers as the Somerset Lizard Orchid demonstrates.
With assistance, it seems that this rare Orchid may even benefit from climate change and spread further north.
References and Further Reading
- Bateman, Richard & Rudall, Paula J. & Hawkins, Julie A. & Sramkó, Gábor (2013): Himantoglossum hircinum (Lizard Orchid) reviewed in the light of new morphological and molecular observations. New Zealand Journal of Botany 3(2):122-140. August 2013.
- BBC News (2005): Rare plant thrives on golf course. 28 June 2005.
- Bumblebee Conservation Trust (2021): Managing golf courses for bumblebees. Land Management Factsheet. February 2021.
- Burnham-on-sea.com (2021): £200,000 upgrade of Burnham and Berrow Golf Course ‘set to boost local economy’. 27 February 2021
- Carey, P. D. (1999): Changes in the Distribution and Abundance of Himantoglossum hircinum (L.) Sprengel (Orchidaceae) over the last 100 years. Watsonia. 22: 353-364 (1999).
- Carey, P. D. & Farrell, L. (2002): Himantoglossum hircinum (L.) Sprengel. Journal of Ecology Vol. 90, No. 1 (Feb., 2002), pp. 206-218. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3072333
- Colding, Johan & Folke, Carl (2009): The Role of Golf Courses in Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Management. Ecosystems 12(2):191-206. February 2009
- Crouch, H. J. (2020): Himantoglossum hircinum (L.) Spreng. Lizard Orchid. Somerset Rare Plant Register account. Somerset Rare Plants Group. 16 April 2020.
- Ellwood, Jeremy (2021): Burnham and Berrow Golf Club Championship Course Review. Golf Monthly. 31 March 2021
- England Golf (2021): Conserving Nature. How to give Natural Habitats a Helping Hand.
- GBIF (2021): Himantoglossum hircinum (L.) Spreng. Global Diversity Information Facility.
- Gregory, Tony (2015): Coastal Management Report. Brean Down to Burnham-on-sea. SlideShare. 26 October 2015.
- Hampton, Mark (2011): The Lizard Orchid – one of the UK’s rarest plants. Pitchcare. 24 November 2011.
- Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust (2017): How to Build a Living Landscape.
- Kew Science (2021): Himantoglossum Spreng. Plants of the World Online.
- Plantlife (2021): Lizard Orchid (Himantoglossum hircinum).
- Sharples, Phil (2005): Conservation on the golf course. Pitchcare. 30 June 2005.
- UK SouthWest (?): Berrow Dunes, Somerset.
- UK SouthWest (?): Himantoglossum hircinum, Lizard Orchid
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