Yellow Birds Nest is an unusual and rare plant. It is a parasite (some say it is a saprophyte) but either way it has no chlorophyll so it looks white when it first appears and subsequently becomes more and more brown as it ages. It does not have proper leaves, just scale leaves up its stem. There is another plant called Birds Nest Orchid which is similar, in that it does not have chlorophyll but they are not related. Also a plant called Toothwort looks similar, again devoid of Chlorophyll.
According to the BSBI it is not quite a rarity, they say this.
Rarity: not quite a Nationally Scarce species in Britain, being recorded in 103 hectads in the New Atlas (Preston et al. 2002). In Ireland and Scotland it would certainly count as a rare plant.
Any way National Scarce or not, I was having some difficulty finding any Yellow Birds Nest and so I consulted the Gloucestershire Naturalist Society and their records showed that it had been recorded in the past from woods near Staunton. Now I often visit woods in that area and have come across interesting species like Broad Leaved Helleborine, Greater Butterfly Orchid, Fly Orchid, Herb Paris and others. Then I remembered taking some photos in 2017 of an odd little plant which I thought might have been a Broomrape. On checking back I discovered that what I had photographed was indeed some Yellow Birds Nest, all be it rather gone over and ratty specimens.
So this year 2018 I went back to the same woods and to the area I sort of remembered from last year, and there they were but as this time I was visiting in mid September they were very brown and very dried up. I counted 21 individuals in one patch. I then roamed about looking for more. I found a second smaller group of just 4 individuals a short distance away from my first group. (visit on 23rd June 2019 and counted 32 individuals)
I continued to hunt about, I was also there to photograph Autumn Crocus which grows there and I did find one other group, this time 12 individuals and they were further on about 200 meters form the first two groups. I will pass my records on to the Gloucester Naturalists as I think these plants are quite special.
More important from my point of view is that I will visit regularly next year so that I will hopefully get some decent photos of them when they first emerge. Below is a slide show of my photos taken over the last three years.
Getting back to its mode of nutrition, some say it lives on leaf litter rather like a fungus, but recent research shows that it is actually epiparasitic, using Tricholoma fungi to extract nutrients from living trees in its vicinity, Beech or Hazel, seem the most popular. Also to confuse things more there are two subspecies but they are very difficult to separate and the best method is to count the chromosomes, one having 16 and the other 48…. Anyway not something you can easily undertake.