Rare Orchid at Darwin’s House

Rare orchid flourishes in Charles Darwin’s gardens after two-year project: A rare orchid that reproduces by getting wasps drunk is thriving in the gardens of Charles Darwin’s house after a two-year restoration programme.

The violet helleborine is entirely pollinated by wasps, which are usually not perceived to be the best pollinators. They’re regimented and meticulously clean themselves, scientists say, which makes the process of pollination a fairly futile prospect – there’s nothing for the pollen to cling to. But the violet helleborine produces an intoxicating nectar cocktail to draw the wasps, which then end up buzzing all over the place and incapable of cleaning themselves. The pollen ends up anywhere the wasp may take it.

Down House in Kent was the home to Charles Darwin and his family; his most famous book, On the Origin of Species, was written in the study there. The head gardener Antony O’Rourke said: “The gardens at Down House were Darwin’s ‘outdoor laboratory’ and are a living monument to some of the most important discoveries in the history of mankind.” The aim is to make the gardens look as if he had just stepped away.

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