Rare flower found close to Lough Neagh

Irish Lady's Tresses orchid
Irish Lady's Tresses orchid

One of Ireland’s rarest flowers has been discovered growing close to Lough Neagh near Aghalee.

An Irish Lady’s Tresses Orchid was found at a ‘hare field’ at Portmore Lough and it transpires it has been a flourishing summer for the rare plant.

Although the orchid is found at only a handful of sites across Northern Ireland, these account for around a third of the plant’s UK population and it isn’t found anywhere on the continent of Europe, although it is widespread in North America.

The RSPB, which has reported finding the flower at one of its reserves near Lough Neagh, says it is one of Northern Ireland’s most eye-catching and rarest plants.

It has spirals of small white flowers resembling the braided hair of a beautiful maiden.

Until this summer, the wet grassland along the western shore of Lough Beg near Toomebridge was one of just a handful of sites where the orchid grows, the conservation group said.

However, when out surveying at the RSPB’s Portmore Lough reserve near Aghalee in late July, trainee ecologist Anne Guichard spotted a single orchid.

Since then, Irish lady’s tresses have been blooming in large numbers at both Lough Beg and Portmore, with more than 400 spikes recorded to date across both sites. Irish lady’s tresses flourish on wet, grazed meadows which regularly flood.

Portmore Lough warden Amy Burns said: “We were thrilled to find this beautiful plant on our site. “Irish lady’s tresses are a UK priority species and Northern Ireland has about one-third of the total UK population so it’s vital that the places where the orchid is found are protected.”

Irish Lady’s Tresses are in flower until the end of August so you’d better be quick if you want to spot this stunning species!

The reserve is home to a herd of konik ponies, which graze the land and help create perfect conditions for breeding birds like lapwings.

The wide expanse of the nature reserve makes it a great place for families to explore, and there is a picnic area, barbeque area and toilets.

Ask the warden for the loan of binoculars or pond dipping nets. The warden is happy to organise a guided walk. Contact 028 9049 1547