Stars in the grass

Bee Orchid © Jon Hawkins, Surrey Hills Photography

Exotic and striking in appearance, orchids can be found in a diverse range of habitats – between now and September is the perfect time to see them in full colour.
Early purple orchids and cowslips

© Mark Heighes

Early purple orchid

As its name suggests, the early purple orchid is one of the first of our native orchids to bloom, strong enough to grow in the light shade of woodland or out in the open grassland of a road verge. Even when not in flower, it is identifiable by its glossy green leaves with dark purple blotches. It remains relatively common but has declined in recent decades due to urban development and modern farming methods. When the flowers first open they have a sweet scent like honey, but once pollinated the flowers smell like the urine of a tomcat! It is thought this may be to warn insects that the flower is no longer worth pollinating.

Green-winged orchid by Lianne De Mello

Green-winged orchid

Similar in appearance to the early purple orchid, the green-winged orchid can be distinguished by its narrow, unspotted leaves and the distinctive veined hoods that sit above its flower, which give it its name. Until the advent of modern farming this orchid was one of the most widespread and common grassland species. Intolerant of artificial fertilisers and herbicides, it has disappeared from half of its historical range and is now mostly confined to nature reserves.

Pyramidal orchid © Mark Heighes

Pyramidal orchid © Mark Heighes

Pyramidal orchid

The pyramidal orchid is the county flower of the Isle of Wight. This orchid is easy to identify from the bright pink, pyramid-shaped cluster of flowers on top of the stem. Botanists did not appreciate the close relationship between pyramidal and green-winged orchids until scientists unravelled the plants’ DNA. The association is surprising as there is very little in common about the appearance of their flowers. The pyramidal orchid, which flowers between June and August, sports a long spur containing nectar to entice moths to drink.

Bee orchid

© Mark Heighes

Bee orchid

The bee orchid is a master of mimicry and has evolved to look like its main pollinator – the longhorn bee. Bizarrely, this bee is rarely found in the UK so the bee orchids found here appear to be self-pollinated – the plant’s male pollen sacs drop onto the female stigma allowing self-pollination to take place. Its windborne seeds germinate freely allowing rapid colonisation of small patches of bare ground. This ability means that short-lived populations turn up in unlikely places such as on the edge of car parks. The bee orchid is, however, at its best in parched sunny habitats and can be abundant where the ground has been disturbed.

When admiring orchids, please remember the immature plants that may surround the flowering spike. Avoid trampling future flowers by keeping to the paths and thoroughly checking where you put your feet.

NATURE NOTES:

Can you help local wildlife by taking part in Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trusts citizen science campaign to find out - How wild are we? 

By filling in our selection of surveys aimed at identifying different species groups, you can tell us what wildlife you’ve observed at home, whether you have a garden or not.

The data collected will help the Trust gain important information to establish what wildlife is in the spaces where we live, so we can track progress towards creating a wilder Hampshire & Isle of Wight.

Getting involved is simple, go to hiwwt.org.uk/how-wild-are-we and download the survey sheets and submit your results.

 

Bumblebee in a garden

© Nick Upton - 2020VISION

NATURE AT HOME:

How to attract bumblebees to your garden

Bumblebees are vitally important for pollinating hundreds of plant species, including many crops, but they are under threat from the loss of habitats. No matter how much space you have, there is something you can do to help support them: don’t disturb nests and hibernation spots, think carefully about whether to use pesticides and grow more flowers.

Bumblebees look for certain types of flowers. Those with shorter tongues need short, open flowers, with nectar within easy reach. This includes flowers from the daisy family and alliums, which have several small flowers on one stalk. This type of flower offers a small reward for each probe, but those bumblebees with long tongues can enjoy deeper flowers like honeysuckle, which have significantly more nectar per flower. 

Find a list of plants popular with bumblebees, and other tips here - hiwwt.org.uk/actions