Orchid moments

Over the past couple of months I have been amazed at the number and variety of orchids that I have seen, in my garden and in the surrounding lanes and woodland. I used to think orchids were rare, and I’m sure many are and that they are rare in many locations, but some are almost ten-a-penny around here! These are the ones I have come across locally:

Early purple orchid (Orchis mascula) [French: Orchis mâle]

Usually the first orchid to flower each year, the early purple orchid has 3-8 basal leaves which are shiny, dark green and usually marked with large dark purple spots, although they can be unspotted. There are 2-3 further small leaves sheathing the stem which can be washed purple. The inflorescence is oval when the flowers are fully open and carries between 10-50 flowers which are deep pink. Occasionally pure white flowers are found but these are rare.

There are hundreds of these in my lawn, and have been since late March.


Green-winged orchid (Anacamptis morio) [Orchis bouffon]

The green-winged orchid flowers very soon after the early purple orchid to which it is superficially similar. However, the less common green-winged orchid can be identified by the greenish parallel veins on the two lateral sepals which form the ‘hood’, which are never found on early purple orchids. Also, the leaves are never spotted. Most plants have purple flowers, but some produce pink or very pale, even white, flowers instead.

I initially confused these with early purple orchids, but there are still hundreds in my lawn, mixed in with the early purples.


Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis) [French: Orchis pyramidal]

Pyramidal orchids get their name from the conical shape of the young infloresence of this plant. However, once the flower is fully developed it becomes more cylindrical or egg-shaped. They are a very strong, bright pink, especially when young.

These are gradually taking over from the early purple and green-winged orchids as the most prevalent orchid on my lawn, first appearing in late April.


Early spider orchid (Ophrys sphegodes) [French: Ophrys araignée]

Another early arrival in my garden was the early spider orchid, probably appearing back in March. I have only found one plant, but it is still flowering, just. The appearance of early spider orchids can be quite varied, and the flowers change as they age. In general, the sepals and petals are greenish-yellow, sometimes marked with reddish-brown, and the lip is dark reddish-brown and velvety in appearance, fading with time.


Woodcock bee orchid (Ophrys scolopax) [French: Ophrys bécasse]

Ophrys scolopax is often confused with Ophrys apifera – the bee orchid – but the flowers of Ophrys scolopax are smaller and narrower, with a pointier ‘tail’ (the lip of the flower). The flowers usually have pink sepals and petals but occasionally specimens with green or white sepals and petals are found.

There are a number of these dotted around my lawn and occasionally along the nearby lanes.


Burnt orchid (Neotinea ustulata) [French: Orchis brûlé]

The burnt, or burnt-tip orchid, has dark red buds that open to white, giving the infloresence the appearance of being burnt at the tip of the flower spike. The infloresence is dense initially but becomes more lax as the flowers open.

Again, there are a lot of these across my lawn, although I see them less frequently along the lanes and in the woods.


Fly orchid (Ophrys insectifera) [French: Ophrys mouche]

The fly orchid is not exactly the most colourful or noticeable of orchids, but like most, its name is very descriptive. It is said that “the flowers closely resemble little flies – the lip forms the body of the insect, the speculum is shiny like the folded wings of a fly and there are even two glossy depressions at the base of the lip which represent the insect’s eyes”. I find the flowers look more like flies when viewed slightly side-on, when it looks like brown-black flies have landed on the stem.

I have only spotted these in our woods, mostly in the slightly more open areas.


Long-lipped tongue orchid (Serapias vomeracea) [French: Sérapias à labelle allongé]

Sometimes referred to as the ploughshare tongue orchid, it is the long hairy lip that is the distinguishing feature of this tongue orchid. The leaves form around the base of the stem and are erect, narrow and pointed. There are further bract-like leaves along the stem which, along with the flower buds, I find the most striking feature. The colour of the flowers is variable but they are often orange-to dark red.

I have several clusters of this growing in the lawn as well as a few other single specimens dotted around.


Narrow-leaved helleborine (Cephalanthera longifolia) [French: Céphalanthère à longues feuilles]

The narrow-leaved or sword-leaved helleborine has leaves that are dark green, long and tapering. Flowers are white with a yellow-edged labellum and usually open only during the warmest and brightest hours of the day. Each plant usually produces one flower spike, but can produce several.

I have found that these are fairly common alongside the paths in the oak woodlands around us.


Violet limodore (Limodorum abortivum) [French: Limodore à feuilles avortées]

The violet limodore, or violet bird’s-nest orchid, is a tall orchid that blends in well with its surroundings, making it hard to spot. It feeds via mycorrhizal fungi and forms a thick rhizome underground, with numerous strong roots tangled together like a nest. The plant does not appear above the ground until after 8-10 years of underground existence!

It is found in coniferous woodland, scrub, and grassy woodland clearings often on rocky terrain. The violet limodore is one of those orchids that can disappear for several years during periods of drought or if the vegetation surrounding it becomes too dense, and then it reappears when conditions become more favourable. This may make this orchid hard to find rather than rare.

I have been lucky to spot one of these unusual looking orchids in a slight clearing, right beside the narrow rocky path that leads into the woods near our house, and a further three beside the lane not far from our house on a steep bank.


Military orchid (Orchis militaris) [French: Orchis militaire]

The military orchid grows up to 60 cm tall and has 2-5 basal leaves which are a fresh bright green. There are further smaller leaves sheathing the stem. The inflorescence is cylindrical when the flowers are fully open and typically carries between 2-25 flowers, sometimes more. The common name of this orchid derives from the helmet-shaped hood formed by the upper petals and sepals, although it also has a rather proud, upright and military bearing!

There is a large patch of these growing beside the road on steep stony ground just outside our hamlet.


Lady orchid (Orchis purpurea) [French: Orchis pourpre]

The lady orchid grows up to 80 cm tall and has a basal rosette of 3-8 large erect leaves which are glossy green and unmarked. The flower spikes can contain anything up to 200 individual flowers. The upper sepals and petals from a dark red hood above the lip of the flower which is white and strongly marked with deep red. The shape and markings of the lips of the lady orchid are extremely variable but there is no mistaking it when you have found one – its size, and the vivid white and dark red flowers make it quite distinctive.


Well, that’s about it (for now). I have some big fat buds coming through which I think will turn out to be lizard orchids, slightly later flowering, and I will update this post as and when I find any other orchids near my house.


Acknowledgement: much of the info above has been taken from my three favourite wildflower-identification websites: NatureGate , First Nature and overthebrink.com.



Signs of spring

In the past couple of days we have had frost, snow, sleet, hail, rain – and even a little bit of sunshine. However, despite the cold and particularly wet winter we have had, the first shoots of spring have already started to push through in the garden. This being our first spring here, it is very exciting, as I do not even know what some of them are going to be!

The clumps may be small, but I was very pleased to see these daffodils pushing through on either side of the little side gate:

Side gate daffodils

There are a few other small clumps of daffodils around the garden, like this one near the front door:

Daffodils by sempervivums

Then I have a few patches of what I think might be tulips, although for some reason I didn’t really expect tulips to thrive here. I hope they are and I hope they do! They are growing in very poor, stony soil, including on the edge of the gravelly driveway.

I know that these (first photo below) are crocosmia shoots, because I did see the tail end of them flowering last year, and the second photo shows what I think are more of the same, although they are in an area that was deep in wild plum saplings that I have cleared a bit, revealing new life.

Crocosmia shoots

Crocosmia shoots?

Do you remember my discovery of Madonna lilies (Madonna unveiled)? These are also in that area where I have cleared away a lot of weak and overgrown plum saplings. They have now started to produce their summer leaves and shoots – the winter basal leaf rosettes will die away.

And then my first, and almost only, spring flowers so far – a little clump of sparsely flowering white hyacinths. I have brought a few sprigs indoors and they scent the kitchen beautifully. There also seem to be plenty more flowering shoots coming through, even though it has already been flowering for several weeks.


In the hedgerows, all down the lane and around some edges of my garden, the Cornus mas are about to break into flower, and this one little sprig in my garden has opened:

Finally, my biggest surprise: I have noticed patches of these small rosettes of broad leaves pushing through the lawn grass in several areas since late autumn or early winter. They initially looked to me a bit like tulip leaves, but obviously far too early. Clearly quite hardy, I assumed they must be some sort of pernicious weed, but decided I should just leave them to see what they turned out to be.

And a few days ago it dawned on me, thinking back to early spring last year when we were house-hunting and I was spending a lot of my time identifying and recording wild flowers (see my Wildflowers page). It seems I have a lawn full of orchids: during a quick walk around in the rain I counted over a hundred!

Wall Dwellers

Wall dwellersI thought I would show you some of the things that I have found living in the walls nearby.

Ferns of various sorts:

Succulents of various sorts:

Herb Robert:

Wisteria (growing through a hole in the wall):





ErigeronA baby oak sapling:

Oak sapling


FirebugsAnd I haven’t been fast enough to photograph them yet (so it’s not my photo), but he had to be included – the common wall lizard:

Common Wall Lizard

Geranium conundrum

This task I have set myself of identifying wild flowers really does challenge what I thought I knew, as well as making me realise how much I don’t know! What I do (or did) know comes largely from what I learnt from my Mum as a fairly young child, and through a primary school wild-flower-pressing competition, which I won for finding and identifying the most species (with Mum’s considerable help, no doubt).

Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum)

For example, everyone knows Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum). Well, everyone who did a primary school wildflower identification project does! Along with Ragged Robin and Red Campion it is one of the countryside stalwarts, sometimes even seen as a weed it is so widespread. So when I saw them here I knew exactly what they were. But then I started to notice that some of the plants I was looking at had much smaller and slightly paler flowers than the usual ones. Were these just young plants, or growing in a more shaded place? It seems they are actually Lesser Herb Robert, or Little Robin (Geranium purpureum) – a new one to me.

Little Robin (Geranium purpureum)

Apparently the only significant difference, apart from the size of the flowers, is the colour of the anthers (the bits of the ends of the stamens where you find pollen). These are yellow on Little Robin, and orange on Herb Robert, although unless you find fresh young flowers it is often quite difficult to tell.

These are not the only geraniums that have given me some headaches in recent weeks. The more varieties I spot and identify, the more similar-but-different varieties I find. For example, Dove’s Foot Cranesbill (Geranium molle) is distinctive by the shape of its leaves – roundish overall, with 5-7 lobes, each lobe being usually 3-toothed. However, if these leaves are slightly shiny (and only 5-lobed), and the flower a bit of a different shape, it could be Shining Cranesbill (Geranium lucidum).

Dove’s Foot Cranesbill (Geranium molle)

Shining Cranesbill (Geranium lucidum)

Then, with very similar flowers to Dove’s Foot Cranesbill, but with very different leaves, is the Cut-Leaved Cranesbill (Geranium dissectum). Easy, I thought – the leaves are a giveaway. But then I found Bloody Cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum) – with very similar dissected leaves, but this time the flowers are much larger and a lovely deep magenta colour.

Cut-Leaved Cranesbill (Geranium dissectum)

Bloody Cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum)

So, from a start point of Herb Robert, I have now discovered five more wildflower geraniums – and I’m sure there many are others out there. Which makes me think: cultivated geraniums are probably a good bet for growing in a garden around here!

Foiled by trefoils

Often described as a ‘lawn weed’, Black Medick (Medicago lupulina) is part of the clover family, with a trefoil of slightly pointed oval leaflets, and clusters of tiny yellow flowers at this time of year. I have noticed it growing amongst mown grass here, and thought I should photograph it to add to my ‘Wildflowers’ log. When I came in to examine my photographs, I was slightly perplexed to discover that what I had photographed appeared to be two very similar, but clearly different, plants.

Black Medick, as I mentioned, has ovate leaves with a small point on the end, which are plain green, very slightly hairy, and with the centre leaf of the leaflet growing on a slightly longer stalk than the other two. The flowers are tiny yellow clover-like flowers, in clusters of probably 20 or more, making a little bobble of about 0.5-1 cm diameter.

Black Medick

Black Medick (Medicago lupulina)

The other plant that I had photographed had almost identical flowers, except that there were only 2-5 flowers in any one cluster. The other notable difference was the leaves, which ended in more of a dip than a point, and had a distinctive brown/black V marking in the centre of them. The leaves had the same formation, with the centre leaflet on a longer petiole (stalk) – around 3mm long – but they were not hairy.

Spotted Medick (Medicago arabica)

So, it was back to the drawing-board, these days known as Google. It is amazing how little comes up for ‘clover-like leaves with dark V marking’ or similar searches. However, I finally found this clear little illustration that explains everything. What I had was Spotted Medick (Medicago arabica).

Black and Spotted Medick illustration

Top – Spotted Medick (Medicago arabica syn. Medicago maculata Willdenow). Bottom – Black Medick (Medicago lupulina).

Having spent so long looking at clover-like leaves growing in the lawn, I then thought I should photograph some of the beautiful large flowers of Red Clover that I keep seeing in the verges. Once again this highlighted how unobservant I had been, as I realised that clover leaves are not really the shape I think they are, ie. the classic shamrock shaped trefoil, like Spotted Medick leaves. They are in fact trefoils of oval leaves, longer, thinner and more pointed than Black Medick leaves. For a moment I thought I was mistaken in calling this clover, thinking maybe I had found yet another similar-but-different species, but no – I just need to learn to be more observant.

Red Clover leaves

Red Clover leaves


Poor bastard! (balm)

Since I decided a few weeks ago to start logging all the wildflowers that I come across, I have learnt a lot. I have spent hours on the internet comparing images and trying to identify plants, finding that some are far easier than others. Some have me stumped for days, until suddenly I have a breakthrough, and this was one such plant.

Cycling up a valley road I noticed some splashes of pink on the steep, almost vertical bank. Closer inspection showed it to be a slightly nettle-like plant, with a scattering of large-ish pink flowers up the stem.

Interestingly, amongst a fairly small group of plants, there was quite a wide range of colours, from pale to deep pink, as well as one plant that combined both of these shades in each flower.

Bastard Balm

The closest I could get to identifying it for some days was some type of lamium: the leaves were about right, but the flowers were not quite the right shape – not narrow enough, and far larger and more impressive than most lamium flowers. Another option that kept cropping up was a type of stachys – perhaps Hedge Woundwort. The flower shape was closer, but still not quite right, and the leaves didn’t have their own stalks. Finally, more by chance than anything, I came upon it, and the poor thing with the beautiful pink flowers is called Bastard Balm!

Despite the name, I just wanted to show you how lovely it is.

Bastard BalmBastard Balm

Bastard Balm

New (or)chids on the block

It really does seem like new orchids pop up overnight. I know it’s probably me not being observant enough to spot the new stems pushing through (hard to do when cycling, you have to admit), but there also seem to be new species coming along week by week. First were the Early purple orchids, following a few weeks later by Lady orchids. Earlier this week I started to notice lots of tightly closed, small orchids which look pale pink from a distance, but are actually more of a speckled purple and white, up close. I wasn’t able to identify them immediately because the flowers weren’t fully open.

New (to me) orchid species. What is it….?

A day or two later and I have seen a dozen or more of them, almost fully open. And they are …. Monkey orchids! What a great name. Also known as Orchis simia. The spike of flowers is relatively short, and looks noticeably spiky and with little tongues sticking out. When you look closely at the flowers you see that they have very narrow lobes, deep pink/purple on the ends and a very different shape to most other orchid species. The shape of the flower is supposed to resemble a monkey.

Monkey orchid

Monkey orchid (Orchis simia)

The second new species I found this week, only 100 yards from my gite in the verge beside the road, was something I immediately thought must be a Bee orchid, so distinctive were the flowers. However, a bit of research suggests it is the Woodcock orchid (or Woodcock bee-orchid), Ophrys scolopax.

Woodcock bee-orchid

Woodcock bee-orchid (Ophrys scolopax)

Woodcock bee-orchid