Britain’s native orchids
FROM MEADOWS TO MARSHES, moorland to sand dunes, the UK is home to more than 50 types of wild orchid. While some varieties, such as the common-spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsia) – whose spear- shaped blooms come in delicate shades of pale pink, purple and occasionally white – grow widely across Britain, others such as lady’s slipper (Cypripedium calceolus) are so rare, they require round-theclock surveillance when flowering in the wild.
First depicted artistically on an altar dedicated to Pax, the Roman goddess of Peace, orchids have long been coveted for their sculptural beauty and mythical symbolism. The Victorians, for example, were so enamoured with the flower, they coined the term ‘orchidelirium’ to describe the mania that overcame collectors who sailed far and wide in search of new species.
Come May, as the days lengthen and the weather gets warmer, orchids begin to emerge like splashes of watercolour on the landscape. Hartslock Nature Reserve in Oxfordshire is a haven for this form of flora, with the monkey orchid (Orchis simia), the hybrid monkey lady orchid (Orchis simia x purpurea) and white helleborine (Cephalanthera damasonium) all thriving in its chalky soil. Further north on the Lincolnshire-leicestershire border, Cribb’s Meadow is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), where swathes of green-winged orchid (Anacamptis morio) bloom during the early summer months, while Clattinger Farm in Wiltshire offers the chance to glimpse rarer varieties such as the burnt orchid (Orchis ustulata), pictured.