Orchid Observers – species to look out for in July
If you are up in the far north west of Scotland and parts of northern England (or down in the New Forest) in July to early August, keep a look out for the smallest of the UK orchids, the bog orchid (Hammarbya paludosa), which is just 4-8cm tall and has tiny greenish flowers which are twisted through 360 degrees rather than the typical 180 degrees for most of our orchids, meaning they are upside down. The bog orchid, as the name suggests, is found in acid peat bogs, often growing among mosses.
If you are headed for southern England in July, a similar orchid to the bog orchid in size and colour is the musk orchid (Herminium monorchis) but with bell-like flowers, and grows in a very different habitat; it occurs only on short grassland on chalk or limestone soils. Look out for it, photograph it if you find it, but take care not to step on it – this orchid is classified as vulnerable.
The bog orchid (top) and the musk orchid (below). These hard-to-find orchids have very local distributions.
You can also still find the bee orchid in flower until late July. The bee orchid is a Mediterranean species of open calcareous grassland and disturbed ground and can be found throughout England, but is scare in Cornwall and north Devon. One petal is highly modified to look like a bee with large pink sepals behind. Pollination is carried out by a process called pseudo-copulation whereby the orchid mimics the sight and smell of a female bee. This attracts male bees who try to mate with the flower and in the process dislodge the pollen which attaches to him and is then carried to the next flower. Unfortunately, the necessary bee species is not present in the UK and so they are always self-pollinated here. We believe this species is also spreading north as our climate becomes warmer.
The bee orchid (Ophrys apifera) – one of the most charismatic and much-loved of our native wild orchid species.
See our UK Orchid Identification Guide for all 29 species in our study.
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