Until this week, the small-flowered tongue-orchid hadn’t been seen in the UK in over 30 years. That all changed when a colony of the small orchids was found on a London rooftop, a shock to its owners and naturalists.
The collection of 15 delicate blooms was found in Nomura International’s 11th-floor garden. Nobody is quite sure how it got there, but botanists believe it is the only known wild UK colony of the species. Nomura’s ecologist Mark Patterson believes wind could have carried the seeds to the rooftop. He told BBC, “The plants could have originated on the continent and been brought over the Channel on southerly winds which frequently bring Saharan dust deposits to the capital.”
The small-flowered tongue-orchid, or Serapias parviflora, is native to the Mediterranean basin and Atlantic coast of France, Spain, and Portugal. The rooftop garden where it was found is home to 159 species of plants and 17 species of bees. Botanists note that the warm urban heat island effect on the rooftop makes the perfect conditions for the rare orchid which is more commonly found further south.
Plant enthusiasts are celebrating the blooms and their appearance offers even further evidence for the benefits of urban rooftop gardens which also help reduce the heat island effect, clean water, purify the air, and provide locally-grown produce.