June 15, 2021
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.
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.