Thursday, 30 June 2016

Orchid Time

The orchids in flower at the moment are dominated by the heath spotted orchid - above, with a bog asphodel - and the common spotted. The heath spotted is the most abundant at the moment but hasn't had a good year, perhaps because of May's dry weather, with the result that there are fewer than usual and they're smaller.

In this species, the wide lower petal, or lip, is divided into three lobes, with the central one small, like a tooth.

It comes in a variety of colours which are usually fairly pale, and is characterised by pink to purple dots and dashes.

The common spotted tends to be taller, forming a more distinctive pyramid of flowers, but the main difference is that the three lobes on the lower petal are deeply cut. The plant is taller, and the flowers arrive a little later than the heath spotted - so they'll be at their best in the next few weeks.

If only life was simple - but, of course, it isn't. The species within the genus Dactylorhiza, to which both of these belong and which also includes the marsh orchids, hybridise very readily, so all sorts of in-between specimens appear.

There are still plenty of fragrant orchids in flower, but other orchids are beginning to appear, including the lesser butterfly orchid, which is reported to be thriving at Branault. A little later, if we're lucky, we should see the greater butterfly orchids, frog orchids, and Irish lady's tresses which we've found in  previous years, but I'm looking for some I haven't seen before, such as the twayblades, the small white, and the bog orchid, all of which should be present locally.

For those interested in orchid identification, the Natural History Museum does a very good, downloadable guide - here - and the West Highland Flora site is good for local orchids.

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