Night Scents and Secrets

Meadows are a beautiful sight but have you ever noticed their scents?

During the day there is not much, except maybe the sweet smell of curing hay.

Come the fall of evening though, the scents come alive.

One of the rewards of working outdoors late into the evening is the discovery of another world that starts to come alive as we are thinking of turning in.

Rowing up hay at sunset

The Greater Butterfly Moment

As evening falls the first thing I usually notice is the smell of moisture in the air, even in this baking summer.

Late May / June this coincides with what I call the “Greater Butterfly Moment”. We will be rowing up hay as the sun is setting when suddenly the sweet scent of the orchids is strong on the air. It is like a switch has been thrown!

Night Scents and Moths

This strong scent is to attract moths which are, at least in part, responsible for pollination of the Greater Butterfly Orchid (GBO).

This fascinating paper details the complex relationship between the GBO and it’s moth pollinators.

The length of the nectar containing spur of the GBO is such that the moth has to probe deep into the flower with it’s probosis to reach it’s reward. This brings the moth head into contact with the pollinia (aggregations of pollen grains) which have a sticky end.

Most of the moth’s head is covered with readily detachable scales, making it unlikely that the pollinia will successfully stick. However, the pollinia are positioned such that they touch the moth’s eyes, which are the largest area of naked surface on the moths head.

The moth flies off with the pollinia stuck to it’s eyes, ready to pollinate the next orchid it visits!

Greater Butterfly Orchid

Extra Scent

Even flowers that are reputed to have a good scent by day can give an extra show in the evening.

Thursday night I went into Cae Novella to check the sheep at about 9pm. Just a dozen paces into the field I was hit by the strong scent of honey.

The source? A large patch of Honeysuckle, flowering away in the hedge right across the other side of the field. I had to walk quite a way before I could confirm with my eyes what my nose had already told me.

A huge thistle outside our house

More Moths!

Other flowering plants worth checking out for night time secrets include Nicotinia, Evening Primrose, Sweet Rocket and the much maligned Ragwort. While it can be a problem if it gets into a hay crop, it is an important nectar source as well as host plant to the spectacular Cinnibar moth caterpillar.

At 10.30pm last night I found half a dozen Silver Y moths fluttering around a huge thistle in our garden. Their eyes reflect torch light and glow, a very odd sight!

I strongly recommend a pre-bedtime amble around your patch to see and smell what might be happening while you are usually sleeping.