Its origins are a mystery, but conservationists said the discovery shows how ‘even the most improbable places can become havens for wildlife’

A rare orchid that disappeared from the UK was discovered on a rooftop at the City of London.  

The 15-strong colony of small-flowered tongue orchids was discovered growing on the green roof of Japanese investment bank Nomura.  

Serapias parviflora is generally found in the Mediterranean basin and along the Atlantic coast of France, Spain and Portugal. However, in 1989 a colony of this plant mysteriously appeared in Cornwall, only to vanish again in 2009.  

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The newly discovered orchids in London would be the only known wild colony of the species in the UK. It’s not understood how they got there, but ecologist Mark Patterson, who oversees the rooftop, has some theories.  

Orchid seeds are incredibly small and can travel great distances by wind, ” he said. The plants could have originated on the continent and were brought over the Channel on southerly winds. Once settled on the Nomura roof that the seeds could have formed a symbiosis with a mycorrhizal fungus enabling them to germinate and grow – while possible, the odds are astronomical. ”

Another possible explanation, according to Patterson, is that the seeds could have been embedded in the soil used to produce the green roof over a decade ago. The plants take years to grow when growing in dry soil conditions, which would explain why they are only coming to bloom now.  

One thing is for certain : the find is a testament to nature’s ability to thrive when it is given space.

An orchid stands proud amid solar panels on Nomuras green roof. Image : Nomura

To find Britains second colony of small-flowered tongue orchids is exciting in itself, but to find them on a green roof at the City of London isextraordinary on another level, if youll excuse the pun,” stated Mike Waller, author of Britains Orchids. “This is clear evidence that with dedication and patience, even the most improbable places can become havens for some of our rarest wildlife. ”

Wild orchids face many threats to their survival, including overgrazing, trampling by walkers and theft by illegal collectors. Given its location, the newly   found colony will be well protected from these dangers.

The orchids aren’t the only uncommon species to have colonised the bank ’s roof – a pair of black redstarts also have been spotted there. According to the RSPB, there are fewer than 100 nesting pairs of the bird in the UK.

Main image : Nomura