Image for A rare orchid that vanished from the UK has been found on a London rooftop

A rare orchid that vanished from the UK has been found on a London rooftop

Its origins are a mystery, but conservationists said the discovery shows how ‘even the most unlikely places can become havens for wildlife’

Its origins are a mystery, but conservationists said the discovery shows how ‘even the most unlikely places can become havens for wildlife’

A rare orchid that vanished from the UK has been discovered on a rooftop in the City of London. 

The 15-strong colony of small-flowered tongue orchids was found growing on the green roof of Japanese investment bank Nomura. 

Serapias parviflora is generally found in the Mediterranean basin and along the Atlantic coast of France, Spain and Portugal. However, in 1989 a colony of the plant mysteriously appeared in Cornwall, only to disappear again in 2009. 

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The newly discovered orchids in London are the only known wild colony of the species in the UK. It is not known how they got there, but ecologist Mark Patterson, who manages the rooftop, has some theories. 

“Orchid seeds are incredibly small and can travel great distances by wind,” he said. “The plants could have originated on the continent and been brought over the Channel on southerly winds. Once settled on the Nomura roof the seeds would have formed a symbiosis with a mycorrhizal fungus enabling them to germinate and grow – while possible, the odds are astronomical.”

Another possible explanation, according to Patterson, is that the seeds could have been embedded in the soil used to create the green roof over a decade ago. The plants take years to mature when growing in dry soil conditions, which would explain why they are only coming into bloom now. 

One thing is for certain: the find is a testament to nature’s ability to thrive when it is given space.

An orchid stands proud amid solar panels on Nomura’s green roof. Image: Nomura

“To find Britain’s second colony of small-flowered tongue orchids is exciting in itself, but to find them on a green roof in the City of London is extraordinary – on another level, if you’ll excuse the pun,” said Mike Waller, author of Britain’s Orchids. “This is clear evidence that with patience and dedication, even the most unlikely places can become havens for some of our rarest wildlife.”

Wild orchids face many threats to their survival, including overgrazing, trampling by walkers and theft by illegal collectors. Given its location, the newly discovered colony will be well protected from such threats.

The orchids are not the only rare species to have colonised the bank’s roof – a pair of black redstarts have also been spotted there. According to the RSPB, there are fewer than 100 nesting pairs of the bird in the UK.

Main image: Nomura

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