Friday, 8 September 2017

The Orchid Hunter tells his story...

Lady's Slipper Orchid
Image: L. Bersweden
There's been quite a buzz recently on social media around 'The Orchid Hunter', a book by Leif Bersweden which is due out next month. So I asked Leif to tell us what it's all about and this is what he said: 

"I have been hunting for plants almost as long as I can remember: in fields and woods, in bogs, up mountains, in rivers and even occasionally at school. When I was nineteen, I took a year out before going to university. For most people this might entail travelling around the world or carrying out volunteer work in a foreign country. Rarely, if ever, would it involve British plants. And yet I decided to spend the summer of 2013 searching for orchids.

Lindisfarne Helleborine
Image: L. Bersweden
"There are more than fifty species of orchid native to Britain and Ireland that flower every year all over the country. Many people have seen them all (with the exception of the enigmatic ghost orchid, Epipogium aphyllum) but often it takes decades to get photos of the full set. 

"To complete such a feat you would have to visit the remote mountainsides and wind-battered sand dunes of the North, the rolling hillsides of the South Downs and the beautifully barren landscapes of the west coast of Ireland. You would have to travel as far as Jersey to see loose-flowered orchid Anacamptis laxiflora, up to Holy Island to see Lindisfarne helleborine Epipactis sancta, not to mention going in search of the lady’s slipper Cypripedium calceolus, one of the country’s rarest plants.

"My challenge, then, was to become the first person to see and photograph them all in one summer. As you can imagine, this was easier said than done. Each orchid comes into flower at a specific time of year, remains at its peak for as little as three or four days and in many cases can only be found at a mere handful of sites. This means that seeing them all in one growing season, ideally in good condition, was nothing short of an organisational nightmare. 

Loose-flowered Orchid
Image: L. Bersweden
"Throughout the summer I was heavily reliant on the help of amateur botanists and BSBI County Recorders around the country. They assisted with site information and updated me on when certain species were coming into flower.

"I learnt about genetics, evolution, British plant-hunting history, human obsession and the vagaries of the British climate. From beginning to end I drove nearly 10,000 miles, took in excess of 50,000 photographs, visited 48 counties and went through two cars. 

"In the first week of July alone I went from Wiltshire to Wales, across to Kent, back to Gloucestershire and ended up on the Outer Hebrides three days later. It was, if nothing else, a wonderful way to see the country.


"If you want to read more about my summer in search of orchids, I’ve written a book, The Orchid Hunter, which is due out on 5th October 2017. It will be in all major bookshops and is currently available for pre-order online by clicking this link."

Many thanks to Leif for telling us all about his orchidaceous peregrinations and thanks also to all the BSBI members who helped him track down these iconic plants!