Botanical treasure hunters ask: Have you seen a ghost?

A A A

They may never find the ghost orchid: the botanists who have nearly finished collecting the seeds of all Britain's wild flowers, plants and trees now feel there are some they will not be able to obtain.

They may never find the ghost orchid: the botanists who have nearly finished collecting the seeds of all Britain's wild flowers, plants and trees now feel there are some they will not be able to obtain.

Seeds from more than 1,300 of the 1,442 species of flora regarded as properly native to Britain have now been stored at the new £80m Millennium Seed Bank of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Scientists at the seed bank, which will open its doors next month at Kew's outstation at Wakehurst Place, West Sussex, aim to collect seeds from all Britain's flora, which would be a unique conservation achievement. But as they approach the end of the task, with about 120 species to go, they feel that some will always remain beyond them.

The project relies on a group of 200 enthusiastic botanists, professional and amateur, who have spent the past three years scouring the country for seeds, from mountain tops and moorlands to lowland ditches and streams.

Steve Alton, the project co-ordinator, said certain wild plants were simply too inaccessible, too rare or too infrequent in appearance. The ghost orchid was a typical example. This plant, which Richard Mabey in the encyclopaedic Flora Britannicacalls "the most mysterious and secretive of all our orchids, prone to sudden manifestations and disappearances" is extremely erratic in its appearance and may not be seen for 15 years at a time. The plant spends nearly all its time underground in the deepest shade of beech woods, relying on nutrients from rotting vegetation rather than photosynthesis, and is devoid of chlorophyll - the substance that makes plants green - and is without leaves.

In the rare years when it did send up a flower spike, Mr Alton said, the only way to find it was to go into the beech woods and shine a torch horizontally along the leaf mould on the ground. "If something pale sticks up it may be a ghost orchid."

Richard Mabey said "only a score or so have been seen in Britain since records began" and Mr Alton thinks the chances of one of his seed collectors finding one are not high.

Other plants also present obstacles to the seed collectors, especially ones from the Scottish mountains such as alpine blue sow-thistle (on inaccessible ledges) and alpine rock cress (too few plants to take seeds safely). Certain other seeds, such as acorns from English oak won't last in the dry cold conditions ideal for most.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Electrical Engineer

£26500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is going through a period o...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Optimisation Executive - Marketing

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's fastest growing, multi...

Recruitment Genius: Professional Sales Trainee - B2B

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: First things first - for the av...

Recruitment Genius: Creative Web and UI Designer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An experienced creative web and...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral