British Orchids in Bloom

What a heatwave we’ve been having here in the UK over last few days! All of this sunshine has meant plenty of time outdoors enjoying Britain’s wonderful flora and fauna. Our most recent wanderings took us along roadside verges in search of Britain’s native orchids. Who would have thought that these verges would be one of the last refuges for many wildflowers?

Anacamptis pyramidalis [PYRAMIDAL ORCHID] Weston-super-Mare, England 13.06.2017 (9)Click to zoom in

The Orchid Family

Orchids are a most beautiful group of plants. The flowers are so intricately evolved and display such diversity. Worldwide, the orchid family (Orchidaceae) is made up of approximately 28,000 species. This makes them one of the two largest families of flowering plants, along with the family Asteraceae. As a comparison, that is more than twice the number of bird species, and about four times the number of mammal species!

Dactylorhiza sp [MARSH & SPOTTED ORCHID] Weston-super-Mare, England 13.06.2017Click to zoom in

British Orchids

The United Kingdom, itself, has 56 native orchid species. Most of the world’s orchid species are epiphytes, meaning they grow on the limbs of trees. A smaller number are terrestrial, meaning they live their lives on the ground.  Interestingly, all species of native orchids in the UK are terrestrial. All orchids are perennials, flowering each year usually at a specific time. For the British species, they always flower during the spring and summer.

Click to zoom in


Whilst out on our orchid hunt, we came across many British orchids. We took all photos in this blog post from around the North Somerset area. If there are any orchid experts out there, feel free to hazard a guess as to what genus/species you think any of them are. 🙂 Below are our observations.

Anacamptis pyramidalis [PYRAMIDAL ORCHID] Weston-super-Mare, England 13.06.2017Click to zoom in

The ‘Marsh’ and ‘Spotted’ Orchids (Dactylorhiza species)

The following orchids we have identified as being part of the Dactylorhiza genus.

The name Dactylorhiza is derived from Greek words “daktylos” (finger) and “rhiza” (root) which refers to the hand-like tubers of plants in this genus.

Dactylorhiza sp [MARSH & SPOTTED ORCHID] Backwell, England 17.06.2017 (2)Click to zoom in

My favourite heading in the Beginner’s Vegetative Guide to Orchids of the British Isles (reference at the end of this post) is the one for this genus: “Dactylorhiza – The ‘Marsh’ and ‘Spotted’ Orchids – BEWARE.” Species in this genus are notoriously difficult to tell apart as many species hybridise so readily that species boundaries themselves are vague. Because of this, there are regular name changes and no clear answers as to what fits where. There are currently 8 accepted species of Dactylorhiza in the British Isles.

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There are few species of Dactylorhiza that colonise very well on fresh industrial wastes (such as pulverised fuel ash) where vast hybrid swarms can appear for a decade or more, before ecological succession replaces them.

Dactylorhiza sp [MARSH & SPOTTED ORCHID] Weston-super-Mare, England 13.06.2017 (8)Click to zoom in

The Pyramidal Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis)

This lovely specimen we have identified as a pyramidal orchid.

Anacamptis pyramidalis [PYRAMIDAL ORCHID] Weston-super-Mare, England 13.06.2017 (2)Click to zoom in

The pyramidal orchid is a lot easier to work out to species-level than species in the Dactylorhiza genus! The scientific name, Anacamptis, derives from the Greek ‘anakamptein’ meaning ‘bend forward’, and the Latin species name, pyramidalis, refers to the pyramid-shaped inflorescence.

Anacamptis pyramidalis [PYRAMIDAL ORCHID] Weston-super-Mare, England 13.06.2017 (4)

The colour of the flower varies from pink to purple, and on the rare occasion, white.

Anacamptis pyramidalis [PYRAMIDAL ORCHID] Weston-super-Mare, England 13.06.2017 (3)

What threats do British orchids face?

As the British Isles cover a wide latitudinal range, it is home to Mediterranean orchids all the way through to sub-arctic species. With such a range, most of the British orchids are highly specialised for their particular location and that location’s conditions, hence why many species are rare.

The main threat to native orchids is loss of habitat, as is the case with many species that are in decline. Over the last century, this has mostly been due to agricultural intensification and the felling of ancient woodland.

Dactylorhiza sp [MARSH & SPOTTED ORCHID] Weston-super-Mare, England 13.06.2017 (3)Click to zoom in

How can I get involved?

Leave ‘wild’ areas in your garden

I visited my aunty’s house the other day, and all through her lawn were twigs poking out of the grass indicating that an orchid was present. It really made me smile – the perfectly mowed lawn with twenty or so ‘wild’ circles dotted all throughout. What a lovely example of making room for a few of our native friends.

Join the Great British Wildflower Hunt

Plantlife have a fabulous project set up over on their website called, ‘The Great British Wildflower Hunt.’ Whether you are familiar with your wildflower species or not, anyone can join in and survey flowers in their local area. They have the ID guides and survey sheets. You even can submit your results online and see the results of other wildflower enthusiasts. All of this data helps them know what’s where, aids in nature conservation, and YOU get to learn about your big ‘backyard’. You can visit the project here:

 Dactylorhiza sp [MARSH & SPOTTED ORCHID] Weston-super-Mare, England 13.06.2017 (5)Click to zoom in

Would you like to read more?

If you would like to read about one of our Antipodean orchid adventures, check out our blog post on New Zealand’s critically endangered greenhood orchid.

We also hope to bring you more British orchid posts soon, so ‘follow’ us for updates!
 greenhood orchid survey

References and Further Reading

Orchid Identification Guides:

First Nature Website – Welcome to the Britain and Ireland Wild Orchid Photo Gallery –
(Retrieved 18 June, 2017)

Natural History Museum – A beginner’s vegetative guide to orchids of the British Isles PDF –
(Retrieved 18 June, 2017)

Natural History Museum – Orchid Observers Identification Guide PDF –
(Retrieved 18 June, 2017)

About Orchids:

The Orchid Society of Great Britain (OSGB) Website –
(Retrieved 18 June, 2017)

The Plant List; A Working List of All Plant Species Website – Orchidaceae –
(Retrieved 19 June, 2017)

Wikipedia Website – Orchidaceae –
(Retrieved 19 June, 2017)

About ‘Marsh’ and ‘Spotted’ Orchids (Dactylorhiza species):

Royal Horitcultural Society Website – Dactylorhiza fuchsii (Common Spotted Orchid) –
(Retrieved 18 June, 2017)

The Wildlife Trusts Website – Common Spotted orchid –
(Retrieved 18 June, 2017)

Wikipedia Website – Dactylorhiza –
(Retrieved 22 June, 2017)

Wikipedia Website – Dactylorhiza fuchsii (Common Spotted Orchid) –
(Retrieved 18 June, 2017)

About the Pyramidal Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis):

Plantlife Website – Pyramidal orchid –
(Retrieved 18 June, 2017)

The Wildlife Trusts Website – Pyramidal orchid –
(Retrieved 18 June, 2017)

Wikipedia Website – Anacamptis pyramidalis (Pyramidal orchid) –
(Retrieved 18 June, 2017)

Getting Involved:

Plantlife Website – The Great British Wildflower Hunt –
(Retrieved 19 June, 2017)


8 Comments Add yours

  1. Pete Hillman says:

    Great post and great images! I love orchids 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Pete! We love orchids, too :). We really want to find a bee orchid now, as I’ve never seen one… the hunt continues 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Pete Hillman says:

        Believe it or not I have only ever seen the Common Spotted Orchid, and woud really love to see others out in the field. I have the Wild Guide, too, but haven’t used it yet! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. naturebackin says:

    I love the idea of gardens with orchid (and wildlife) friendly spaces, and possibilities for gardens to collectively supplement habitat as wilder or more natural areas continue to diminish.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, this exactly! Allowing connectivity between spaces to create a network of habitats and populations. We need more of this, and often it’s just about educating people about the best ways to manage their land. Ponds for newts, gaps under fences for hedgehogs, un-mown patches for wildflowers… all little things that make a big difference. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. naturebackin says:

    I like to be hopeful that small changes and contributions can add up to a significant network, as you say. Lots to learn and to share. Thanks for your lovely blog with great information and encouragement. Great to connect.

    Liked by 1 person

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