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Features from Wildlife magazine

Get to know an orchid

Orchids have, quite deservedly, a reputation as the most exquisite and elusive of flowers - and yet locally, if you know where and when to look, you can find a stunning range of these beautiful plants. Tim McGrath, Head of Nature Reserves, helps you on your way...

 

 

 

 

Southern marsh orchid (Dactylorhiza praetermissa)
A widespread species usually found in association with wetland habitats.

Flowers: June through to mid July

Characteristics: A tall robust plant (60cm) with a long cylinder-shaped flower head containing up to 100 flowers. Each individual flower contains a small hood formed by the upper sepals covering a broad lower lobe. The colour is generally pinky-purple with many fine dots across the central section. The unspotted leaves are long broad and waxy in appearance.

Reserves to visit: Weston Moor, Netcott’s Meadow and Stockwood Open Space.

 

Bee orchid (Ophrys apifera)
Often remains dormant for many years and will then flower in profusion. Usually a species for dry limestone soils this unmistakable orchid will also grow in species-rich neutral grasslands.

Flowers: June to mid July

Characteristics: A tall elegant plant (40cm) with up to seven relatively large flowers appearing as the flowering stalk grows. Each flower is very distinctive with three pink sepals positioned behind a velvety-brown central lobe. The green waxy leaves are strap-like and form a tight rosette when the plant is not in flower.

Reserves to visit: Dolebury Warren, Walton Common and Weston Moor

Heath spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza maculata) Despite its name this robust orchid is found locally on species-rich neutral pasture.

Flowers: end May to end July.

Characteristics: A short plant (10cm) with a tight cluster of very pale-pink flowers freckled with purple spots. The lip of the lower part of the flower is broad with a small central lobe. The leaves are narrow and lightly marked with small dark spots.

Reserve to visit: Folly Farm

 

Green-winged orchid (Orchis morio)
A plant of species-rich grassland, this iconic plant often grows in colonies containing hundreds of individuals.

Flowers: end April to mid June

Characteristics: Usually a short compact plant, often growing no more than 10cm high. The flowering spikes contain up to 10 flowers and vary widely in colour from pure white to deep purple. However each side sepal is veined with green parallel lines obvious from behind. The blue-green basal leaves are short and strap-like.

Reserves to visit: Walborough and Ashton Court

Early-purple orchid (Orchis mascula)
Almost entirely found as a plant of native broad-leaved woodlands, often found growing in small groups within carpets of bluebells.

Flowers: mid April to mid June.

Characteristics: A tall plant (40cm) with pinkish-purple flowers that are widely spaced along the flowering spike. When they occur, the dark spots on the leaves are usually wider than they are long, although this feature is often variable.

Reserves to visit: Weston Big Wood, Priors Wood, Folly Wood, Tickenham Ridge and Lower Woods.

 

 

Autumn ladies tresses (Spiranthes spiralis)
A plant of tightly cropped, species-rich limestone grasslands, often found in colonies numbering many hundreds of plants. Can remain in an unflowering state for many years.

Flowers: end August to end September

Characteristics: A small elegant plant with a spiralling flowering spike (10cm) bearing many small, ivory-coloured flowers. These delicate trumpet-like flowers are always sweetly scented with honey. The short bluish-green leaves form a tight rosette.

Reserves to visit: Hellenge Hill, Walborough and Tickenham Hill

Common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuschsii)
A widespread species, found in both limestone and neutral grassland areas. Sometimes found in broad-leaved woodlands.

Flowers: end May to end July.
Characteristics: A tall plant (40cm +) with a long pyramidal cluster of pale-pink flowers, delicately marked with purple loops. The central lobe of the lower part of the flower is longer than its neighbouring side lobes. The leaves are usually marked with dark blotches, although this
feature varies markedly between plants.

Reserves to visit: Ashton Court, Folly Farm, Brown’s Folly and Stockwood Open Space.

 

Greater butterfly orchid (Platanthera chloantha) An uncommon plant found within species-rich limestone grassland, scrub and native broad-leaved woodland.

Flowers: mid May to mid July.

Characteristics: A tall (40cm) elegant plant with an open flowering spike, containing up to 40 sweetly scented ivory-coloured flowers. Each individual flower contains a small hood formed by the upper sepals covering a deeply divided lower lobe. The two large shiny green basal leaves are long and strap-like.

Reserves to visit: Weston Big Wood and Tickenham Ridge

Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis) Predominantly found in species-rich limestone grassland, this obvious orchid will also occur in species-rich neutral grassland.

Flowers: mid May to mid July

Characteristics: A medium sized plant (30cm) with a short pyramidal cluster of small purple-pink flowers on top of a long spike. The leaves are usually short and form a tight rosette when the plant is not in flower.


Reserves to visit: Dolebury Warren, Walton Common and Tucking Mill

 

Common Twayblade (Listera ovata)
A plant found in a wide range of habitats including fen, limestone grassland, reedbed and native broad-leaved woodland. Can remain hidden until finally noticed!

Flowers: mid April to end July

Characteristics: An tall (50cm) slender plant with two large opposite leaves growing part-way up the stem. The pale green flowers are inconspicuous but on closer inspection their structures are delicate and fine detail can be seen. The upper sepals form a small hood over the bottom lip that is elongated and deeply forked.

Reserves to visit: Weston Moor, Weston Big Wood and Stockwood Open Space

“The most beautiful flower in the world: it’s a green-winged orchid .... this orchid was fragile, almond pink etched with green and its few flowers had the grace of an angel.”
Geraldine Taylor at Ashton Court Meadow

For further information on British orchids visit www.britainsorchids.fieldguide.co.uk

Photos: Common twayblade, Greater butterfly orchid, Autumn ladies tresses, Green-winged orchid © Keith Taylor, Heath spotted orchid, Early-purple orchid © David Kilbey,