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Sutherbruff and Sand-dale 21st June 2009

This was a trip to Dalby Forest to see two local rarities: yellow birdsnest Monotropa hypopytis and mountain everlasting Antennaria dioica plus some interesting orchids.

Sutherbruff Quarry

We started at the old limestone quarry on Sutherbruff Rigg at SE870875. This is the only remaining known local site for the yellow birdsnest, a curious little plant that is parasitic and therefore has no chlorophyll. We found 4 spikes just coming into flower, along with a couple of withered ones from last year. This plant seems to be decreasing, as in the past more spikes have been recorded, and it was also found under the trees fringing the quarry on both sides.

The site, as with many old quarries, has a rich flora, including bee orchids Ophrys apifera on the sun-baked quarry floor where the soil is dry and very thin. Viper’s bugloss Echium vulgare was common, as were common spotted orchids Dactylorhiza fuchsii, yellow rattle Rhinanthus minor, birdsfoot trefoil Lotus corniculatus and wild strawberry Fragaria vesca. We also saw columbine Aquilegia vulgaris but as many of them were white I suspect they were garden escapes, especially as there were also clumps of garden alchemillas present. This site is deep in the forest but well worth a visit.

Wild strawberry
There were plenty of these at the edge of the old working face; very tasty they were too!
wild strawberry Fragaria vesca fruit
Yellow birdsnest
This rather unexciting-looking plant is actually very special – uncommon everywhere this is the only known local site for it. It was extremely hard to photograph, being only a couple of inches tall and growing hard up against a tree-trunk. As you can see it isn’t fully out; the black spikes are from last year.
yellow birdsnest Monotropa hypopytis
This was the only plant I saw with the dark blue-purple flowers of the native form, but the flowers were quite large and I suspect a garden origin (old quarries often have rubbish dumped in them).
columbine Aquilegia vulgaris
Viper’s bugloss
This stunningly blue plant was everywhere; the name is derived from the forked stigma which looks remarkably like a snake’s tongue. It is another species that loves bare limy slopes and quarry floors.
vipers bugloss Echium vulgare
Bee orchid
I was delighted to find at least half a dozen spikes of bee orchids growing amongst short grass in the western half of the quarry. They were in beautiful condition, and the resemblance to a furry bumblebee was very marked. These always seem to be rather exotic for North Yorkshire!
bee orchid Ophrys apifera
Blue butterflies
There were several common blues flying low over the quarry floor, mostly around the bee orchids. I spent a long time chasing them with a camera – and eventually came across this pair who had other things on their minds. The male has his wings part-open.
Common blue butterfly Polyommatus icarus


We then moved on to the bottom of Sand-dale, which is an area of damp grassland on a south-facing slope running down to a marshy area that is known for its orchids (approx. SE 858848). (Later in the season marsh helleborines grow here but we were too early to see them.) It is on the grassy slope that the mountain everlasting grows, on a dryer hump between two spring-fed rills. The curious little fern moonwort Botrychium lunaria has been seen here but we could not find any; perhaps we were too early, as I last saw it here on 7th July 2000. I got the impression the grass was longer and lusher this year, which is not good news for it or the antennaria – perhaps we need more rabbits to graze the turf.

Moving across into the wet valley bottom (which is probably best described as a fen since it is neutral to limy) we saw marsh arrow-grass Triglochin palustris, broad-leaved cottongrass Eriophorum latifoium which only grows in non-acid conditions, and numerous spotted and marsh orchids. The narrow-leaved Dactylorhiza traunsteineri has been recorded here but we could not convince ourselves any of the hybrid swarm we saw could be it, although several plants did have long, narrow leaves. [I have since had the identification confirmed as D. traunsteineri [or, more correctly, D. traunsteinerioides] by Richard Bateman from Kew.] Rather to my surprise there were no northern marsh orchids, although the dark colour of many of the individuals suggested it must have been one of the parents of the hybrids.

Within the marshy area is a small pond (probably an artificial fire pond), and around its margins there were scores of common blue and large red damselflies. I spent another happy half hour or so trying to photograph them, and managed to get some reasonable shots.

Antennaria leaf
This is the characteristic silvery leaf of mountain everlasting, a curious little plant that is much commoner in Scotland. I do not know of another site for it in Ryedale, although there are old records near Hutton-le-Hole and one or two other places. I suspect we were a little early, as these leaves were very small (and also I have records of it flowering in early July).
Antennaria flowers
As the Latin name dioica suggests, this species bears its male and female flowers on separate plants. These are the females.
mountain everlasting Antennaria dioica female flowers
Antennaria flowers
There was only one sprig of male flowers and my photo is a bit of a disaster! (It is a very tricky plant to photograph, being so tiny – only an inch or so tall – and feathery, which my camera at least finds hard to focus.) The male flowers are flatter and more “daisy-like” than the females.
mountain everlasting Antennaria dioica male flowers
White marsh orchid
A rather striking white spike of a marsh orchid. This is apparently the very uncommon albino form of D. traunsteineri
white marsh orchid Dactylorhiza traunsteineri
Purple marsh orchid
This was one of the marsh orchids I hoped might turn out to be (at least partly) D. traunsteineri. – since confirmed.
marsh orchid Dactylorhiza traunsteineri
Marsh orchid flower spike
A representative spike of one of the swarm of dactyl orchids D. traunsteineri.
marsh orchid Dactylorhiza traunsteineri
Red damselfly
This is the common species Pyrrhosoma nymphula or large red damselfly, probably a male; the photo doesn’t do justice to the deep, metallic crimson colour that really shines in the sun.
large red damsaelfly Pyrrhosoma nymphula
Blue damselflies
A courting pair of the common blue damselfly Enallagma cyathigerum – unfortunately I have missed the female’s tail in the picture (and the photo doesn’t fully capture the incredible electric blue of the male). For mating the male grips the female behind the head using special claspers, and the pair fly around together. The actual mating involves the female curving her body up to the male into the so-called “wheel formation” and accepting a packet of sperm from him.
common blue damselfy Enallagma cyathigerum


This was a long, tiring day but very worthwhile. Both sites are very special and are cared for by the Forestry Commission.

It’s a hard life being a botanist....

botanist taking photo

© Gill Smith June 2009. Pictures © Gill Smith & Nan Sykes 2009

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