Rare orchid found tangled around disposable face mask near Sheffield manufacturing park

A rare type of orchid has been discovered growing in Sheffield for the second time in just under a year, but it had to be freed from a disposable face mask.

Sunday, 13th June 2021, 9:25 am
Updated Thursday, 24th June 2021, 5:57 pm

A rare bee orchid was discovered near the Advanced Manufacturing Park in Sheffield by a worker who had to untangle it from a littered face mask.

The bee orchid gets its name because it mimics the appearance and smell of a female bee, which encourages male bees to fly in to try to mate with it, inadvertently getting covered in pollen which it then passes from flower to flower – the stem has a number of relatively large pink flowers that look like wings, and furry, brown lips that have yellow markings on, just like a bee.

Unfortunately, it is completely self-pollinated in this country and is much scarcer in the north.

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The bee orchid was found by Sarah-Jane Tonks near the Advanced Manufacturing Park in Sheffield. Picture: Sarah-Jane Tonks
The bee orchid was found by Sarah-Jane Tonks near the Advanced Manufacturing Park in Sheffield. Picture: Sarah-Jane Tonks

Sarah-Jane Tonks, who made the discovery, said: “There's only the one at present, and I had to untangle it from a littered disposable face mask. I'd never seen a wild orchid before - I had to look it up.”

“I was really pleased to discover the orchid; it was a special find given how mundane its home is - it goes to show that there are natural treasures everywhere. This excitement was slightly tempered with concern as its position on the verge puts it right at the edge of where the council mows a strip back.

“I hope it has time to set some seeds down before the next trim. I did a bit of reading, and it seems they need short grass to grow, but they often only flower once and then die. I hope other people get the chance to see it as it is lovely to look at and looks like something transplanted from a tropical country.

She added: “Seeing rubbish on the side of the road always makes me sad and angry. Seeing a blue disposable facemask - a symbol of everyone's collective struggle over the last 18months - lying in the grass just feels worse.

“It wasn't even the only one. That stretch of road was growing a fine crop of blue rectangles. Casual littering is pointlessly harmful to our communities, and deciding to drop contaminated waste seems callous.

“If I am walking to lunch and see a littered plastic bottle, I can pick that up and take it home for my recycling bin. I can't pick up dropped masks without PPE; I used a twig to free up the orchid, and I'm going back for a proper clean up.

“No one likes seeing rubbish lying around, but enough people seem happy enough to drop things. It is easily avoided and helps our environment in all sorts of ways: keeping plastic out of the ocean, preventing chemicals from leaking into the ground, preventing living things from getting tangled up or poisoned. It is a bit depressing that no matter how much I pick up, there is always more to find.”

It is the second sighting of the flower in the city after it was previously seen growing outside the main entrance of Menzies Distribution, on Shepcote Business Park, in Tinsley.

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