In East Anglia this pseudobulbous perennial herb is restricted to species-rich fens on infertile soils, and to old peat cuttings. Elsewhere, it grows in young dune-slacks. Lowland.
This species declined greatly, especially before 1930, due to habitat destruction and, in East Anglia, scrub encroachment and the cessation of peat cutting. At its dune-slack sites coastal management and under-grazing stabilise dunes and reduce the number of young slacks available for colonisation.
Eurosiberian Temperate element, with a continental distribution in W. Europe; also in E. Asia and N. America.
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Light (Ellenberg): 8
Moisture (Ellenberg): 8
Reaction (Ellenberg): 8
Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 3
Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0
January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 3.9
July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 16.1
Annual Precipitation (mm): 771
Height (cm): 20
Perennation - primary
Life Form - primary
Clonality - primary
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 26
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0
Atlas Change Index: -0.38
Plantatt Conservation Status
RDB Species Accounts
Liparis loeselii (L.) L.C.M. Rich (Orchidaceae)
Fen orchid, Gefell-Lys y Fignen
Status in Britain: ENDANGERED. WCA Schedule 8. EC Habitats & Species Directive, Annexes II and IV
Status in Europe: Vulnerable.
In Britain L. loeselii is restricted to fens in the Broadland district of East Anglia and dune-slacks on the South Wales coast. In Broadland, L. loeselii is apparently confined to the vegetation in which Phragmites australis or Cladium mariscus is usually dominant in a species-rich community of fairly tall fen plants (Wheeler & Shaw 1987). This community occurs on infertile soils in areas with a relatively high and stable groundwater regime and develops as a transient stage in the hydroseral colonisation of shallow re-flooded peat cuttings (Giller & Wheeler 1986). All the remaining fenland populations are located in sites which have in the past been cut for peat (Doarks 1993). In South Wales it occurs mainly in successionally young dune-slacks characterised by Salix repens, and a rich flora including Agrostis stolonifera, Carex flacca, Carex viridula ssp. viridula, Hydrocotyle vulgaris, Juncus articulatus, Mentha aquatica, Ranunculus flammula, Samolus valerandi, Aneura pinguis, Calliergonella cuspidata, Campylium stellatum, Pellia endiviifolia and Petalophyllum ralfsii.
This perennial species has a basal pseudobulb which is replaced each year. Additional daughter bulbs and shoots are frequently produced by vegetative propagation. Flowering shoots typically range from 3-18 cm in height and bear between one and ten flowers on a stem, though up to seventeen have been recorded. Non-flowering shoots are common and often comprise the majority of the population in dune-slacks. Flowering occurs mostly between late June and early July, though may extend to mid-September. Autogamy has been observed, and this may be aided by impaction by rain drops (Catling 1980). Individuals represented by a single shoot can live for up to eight years, although genets comprised of multiple shoots probably survive for much longer. In dune populations, demographic studies suggest that recruitment from seedlings is most prevalent in young slacks where the plant can become established within the first fifteen years of plant succession on bared sand. The dune-slack populations of L. loeselii are represented by a distinct taxon (var. ovata) which is distinguished from the fenland taxon (var. loeselii) by its generally shorter stature and broader ovate-elliptical blunt leaves.
L. loeselii has suffered a severe decline in the British Isles. Although once known from at least 30 sites in Norfolk, Suffolk, Kent, Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, the fenland variety is now confined to three Broadland stations with a total known population of fewer than 250 plants (Norfolk Wildlife Trust 1996). Whilst habitat destruction has resulted in the loss of some populations, the cessation of peat cutting is probably the most important contributory factor that has led to the decline of L. loeselii at intact Broadland sites (Wheeler 1993). The cessation of summer mowing management may also have been significant as this helps prevent scrub encroachment and retard the ongoing process of terrestrialisation.
By far the largest populations occur on the South Wales coast. During the twentieth century, it has been recorded from eight Welsh dune systems (Jones, et al. 1995), but is now confined to four sites. Although the Welsh population is known to exceed 10,000 plants, long-term decline is evident. Undergrazing is undoubtedly an important factor, resulting in the loss of suitable supporting vegetation types through succession. The stabilisation of many dune systems to a point where few new slacks suitable for colonisation are being formed is also of key importance, and is a function not only of undergrazing but also sediment starvation and past management policy which favoured stabilisation. The var. ovata once occurred at Braunton Burrows, North Devon (Willis 1967), but has not been seen since 1987 and may be extinct there.
L. loeselii has a circumboreal distribution, occurring throughout Europe and Asia to North America. In Europe the species occurs from Britain and southern Fennoscandia southwards, extending from south-west France eastwards to the Balkans and southern Russia. In Europe, L. loeselii is threatened throughout its range and is legally protected in many countries.
P. S. Jones and B. D. Wheeler
Atlas text references
1986. Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols.
1998. Aspects of the population biology of Liparis loeselii (L.) Rich. var. ovata Ridd. ex Godfery (Orchidaceae) in the dune slacks of South Wales, UK. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. 126:123-139.
1995. The conservation of scarce and declining plant species in lowland Wales: population genetics, demographic ecology and recommendations for future conservation in 32 species of lowland grassland and related habitats. (Science Report No. 110).
1965. Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 1. 2 vols.
1991. The orchids of Suffolk.
1998. Liparis loeselii (L.) Rich. in eastern England: constraints on distribution and population development. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. 126:141-158.
1999. British Red Data Books. 1. Vascular plants, edn 3.