Chatham mum discovers rare and endangered Man orchid on her doorstop

A single stalk of a rare and endangered species of orchid often thought to resemble “levitating spacemen” has been found hiding in plain sight in a baker’s front garden.

Angelika Djacenko, 36, made the incredible discovery while putting the bins outside her Chatham home yesterday.

A rare orchid, believed to be the Man Orchid, was found in the front garden of a home in Chatham. Photo: Angelika Djacenko

Originally from Lithuania, Angelika has been living in the UK for the last 12 years and runs her own bakery business while working as a school dinner lady part-time.

But in her native land the mum-of-two studied for a masters degree in biology with a specialism in orchids.

“I was putting my rubbish out and I thought ‘ooh what a strange plant’,” she said. “You can imagine how excited I was.”

She spotted what she suspected to be a rare Man Orchid next to the pathway leading to her front door.

Angelika came to the inspect the plant before rushing back inside to consult her books on British orchids which confirmed her discovery.

Alisa Djacenko with the rare orchid at the family home in Chatham.  Photo: Angelika Djacenko
Alisa Djacenko with the rare orchid at the family home in Chatham. Photo: Angelika Djacenko
Angelica's daughter Alisa with the rare orchid.  Photo: Angelica Djacenko
Angelica’s daughter Alisa with the rare orchid. Photo: Angelica Djacenko

The Man Orchid is one of Britain’s rare orchids and is classified as endangered under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

It is one of 56 orchids that grow wild in the UK and flower from early May to late June.

According to the National History Museum, the flower spike of the species grows up to 30cm tall and it was named as such owing to its resemblance to a “tiny invasion of levitating spacemen” when in bloom.

Your best chance of spotting one of these endangered plants is if you live in the south east of England.

Its presence is now confined to a few protected reserves and sites, although it can occasionally be found in places such as sand dunes and roadside yards.

Angelica Djacenko studied orchids for her masters degree in Lithuania.  Photo: Angelica Djacenko
Angelica Djacenko studied orchids for her masters degree in Lithuania. Photo: Angelica Djacenko

But its discovery – hiding in plain sight in the front garden of a home in a built up area – took even Angelika, a botany enthusiast, by surprise.

“I have never seen this before in my life,” the baker said. “In Lithuania we don’t have this particular one and we have less than in England.”

“It was very strange thing to find for me. They are vulnerable if a human does anything around them, for instance if the environment changes or there is air pollution. It is a really rare thing.”

She believes the chalk-based earth provides fertile ground for the species with the grassland and climate in Kent well suited to the flower.

To best ensure its protection, Angelika has laid down bamboo sticks around the plant to guard against it being stepped on. She also jokingly told her husband to mow the lawn around it in future.

If her discovery is followed by more finds the mum-of-two says she will attempt to contact botanists at Kew Gardens to see if they wish to register a new official location.

The orchid observer added: “The feeling is incredible, to find rare orchid just on your doorstep. It is like a special gift from nature I was so so happy.

“You can pass it and never know it was there, it is such a rare and precious plant.”

It’s not the first time a rare orchid has been found flowering again in Kent.

Last year the flowering lizard orchid plants were discovered on the HS1 rail line on the section between Chatham and Bromley.

The flowers were first recorded in the Dartford area a century ago and a single plant spike was spotted in 2019 but died out just a year later.

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