The wonders of the orchid

The wonders of the orchid

Posted 23rd Jun 2017

Summer is the time for wild flower meadows, with hillsides ablaze with colour and buzzing with insects

The undoubted star of the wild flower world are the orchids - and now is the time to go out and enjoy them. There are around 50 species in the UK, some of which are common and widespread, while others are among our more sought after rarities, which will be found in only a number of locations.

The beautiful bee orchid, whose flower mimics a furry-bodied bee to fool pollinators, is amongst the most common species, and will often appear on road verges, grasslands and open ground near gravel pits. Its understated cousin, the fly orchid, pulls off a similar trick on the edge of woodland.

Keep your eyes peeled for the bizarre bird's-nest orchid deeper in the woods. Growing up from dense leaf litter, the bird's-nest orchid is a parasite, stealing its nutrients from the roots of trees. It will subsequently have dispensed the green chlorophyll that other plants use to make their own food, and is a ghostly creamy-brown.

On chalk grassland, keep your eyes peeled for dense pink flower spikes of pyramidal orchids, and the taller, cylindrical spikes of fragrant orchid, which will smell sweet, especially in the evening. The lizard orchid is a 'smellier' variety, which is found at a few sites in the south of England. This giant among orchids has a spike of gorgeously twisty, spiral-tipped 'lizard' flowers and will smell strongly of billy goats.

The key to finding orchids is to do your research in advance, so you can target the right habitats at the right time of year. There are a number of sources of information - for example start with your local Wildlife Trust. When you're out, be careful where you tread - as well as the obvious flower spikes, there can be plenty of non-flowering leaf rosettes you could unwittingly be trampling. You should also avoid picking the flowers - it may be tempting but some are legally protected, meaning you could be breaking the law.

If you find yourself unable to visit some of the special locations listed below, there are many different habitats across the country where they could be.

Special spots

Hartslock in Oxfordshire is a fabulous swathe of chalk grassland which overlooks the Thames, and is renowned for its hundreds of monkey orchids which are found at just three places in the country, as well as lady orchid, and unusually, the hybrid of the two. Orchids found here include bee, pyramidal and common spotted orchids, common twayblade and white helleborine, while you can witness red kites soaring overhead. Both chalkhill and Adonis blues will add some colour later in the summer.

Other sites include:

Antrim, Slievenacloy

Armagh, Milford Cutting

Ayrshire, Feoch Meadows

Bedfordshire, Totternhoe

Berkshire, Greenham and Crookham Commons

Brecknock, Vicarage Meadows

Buckinghamshire, Aston Clinton Ragpits

Cornwall, Chyverton

Cumbria, Waitby Greenriggs

Cumbria, Latterbarrow

Derbyshire, Priestcliffe Lees

Derbyshire, Rose End Meadows

Devon, Dunsdon

Dorset, Fontmell Down

Durham, Blackhall Rocks

Durham, Bishop Middleham Quarry

Essex, Chafford Gorges Nature Park

Gloucestershire, Elliott (Swifts Hill)

Gwynedd, Caeau Tan y Bwlch

Gwent, Pentwyn Farm

Hampshire, Noar Hill

Hertfordshire, Frogmore Meadow

Isle of Man, Close Sartfield

Kent, Yocklett’s Bank

Kent, Downe Bank

Kent, Park Gate Down

Lancashire, Salthill Quarry

Lincolnshire, Whisby Nature Park

London, Hutchinson’s Bank, Chapel Bank and Threecorner Grove

Nottinghamshire, Wilwell Farm Cutting

Oxfordshire, Warburg Nature Reserve

Suffolk, Winks Meadow

Surrey, Howell Hill

Warwickshire, Ufton Fields

Wiltshire, Lower Moor Farm

Worcestershire, The Knapp and Papermill

Yorkshire, Wharram Quarry

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