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.