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Orchid spotting

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Posted: Friday 1st July 2016 by WildBlog

Pyramidal orchid at Browne's Folly (c) Joe MiddletonPyramidal orchid at Browne's Folly (c) Joe Middleton

What’s out in July and where’s best to see it

The British orchid season begins in spring, around May, and our orchids might be a lot smaller than the large exotic tropical species but they are no less beautiful, especially when viewed carefully to reveal the detail of each intricate flower.

There are around 50 British orchid species and some are very rare. Some resemble insects such as the bee orchid in a clever attempt to encourage pollination by enticing a male bee down to what he mistakes for a female bee.
He may be disappointed in his search for a mate but at least he might transfer some pollen between orchid flowers. Orchids are found in a variety of habitats including chalky or limestone soils, wet grasslands and woodlands.

Top places to go summer orchid spotting in Bristol include Ashton Court, Stockwood Open Space, Leigh Woods, and the Bristol Downs.

For some extra special places a bit further afield, why not take a trip to one of our best orchid nature reserves:
1. Folly Farm, Stowey, near Bath
2. Dolebury Warren, near Churchill, North Somerset
3. Browne’s Folly, Bathford, near Bath


At the moment look out for common spotted and heath spotted orchids, which look very similar to each other with a spike of pale pink to purple flowers and dark spots on the leaves. The way to tell the difference is in the leaf spots – ‘sausage shaped’ for common spotted and more circular for heath spotted. The common spotted is our most frequently occurring orchid and the heath orchid prefers a more acidic soil.

Another summer bloomer is the pyramidal orchid, which has a pyramid shaped spike of deep pink flowers. The bee orchid is unmissable, as the flower resembles a bumblebee’s bottom! The common twayblade flowers are also starting to come out, they are greenish in colour which can make them more difficult to spot amongst the surrounding foliage, so you will have to look carefully.


Common spotted orchid (c) Ian Chambers











Pyramdal orchid (left) and bee orchid (right)  (c) Ian Chambers

The seeds of orchids are tiny and each plant produces thousands which are widely dispersed by the wind. Being so tiny means that there is no food reserve stored within the seed to feed the embryo plant. As an alternative orchids have evolved to have an association with a fungi in the soil which begins when the seed germinates. This provides food for the young seedling until it has formed its own leaves above ground which may take months or even years in some species. So when you do see an orchid in flower this summer you will have some idea of the amazingly complex process that has taken place and enabled it to grow there.


Common twayblade 


We’d love to see your orchid photos - keep in touch:

Twitter @avonwt
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By Rachael Fickweiler, Conservation Projects Officer

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