The Musk Orchid (Herminium monorchis)
This is a rare orchid becoming ever more scarce with the passing years due to habitat destruction. The British Stronghold for this orchid is to be found on the South Downs scarp slope.
This attractive orchid was once fairly common on Bepton Down but sadly it has not been seen for many years. The Bepton Down Conservation Group would be delighted to hear from anyone who finds one of these orchids on this SSSI in 2016 and beyond. Please let us know using the contact details given.
In the United Kingdom it is locally common only in Southern England and then only on chalk or limestone grasslands where there is short Festuca turf.
It spreads through vegetative reproduction and seed dispersal. Two or more tubers are produced each year at the tips of thin stolons which can be as long as 20cm. A year later each new tuber produces a shoot but only one of these may flower as they are still dependent on nutrients, in the form of photosynthates, from the parent plant. This results in slightly shifting colonies of the Mush Orchid. Seeds set readily in egg-shaped capsules.
The orchid itself is a beautiful, slender plant with greenish-yellow stems and leaves which are oval at the base of the plant but bract-like and insignificant further up the stem. The flowers are tiny, yellowish with narrow lobes. Despite its name they exude a delicate honey-like smell. It relies mainly on flies and beetles for pollination as these must enter the flower sideways due to the shape of the floral parts.