Wet feet in search of wild orchids

It didn’t start out as a quest for orchids. First off, it was just a regular dog walk on Corfe Common in Dorset, enjoying the views:


And the meadow flowers, like this patch of knapweed shining in the sunshine:


But then I spotted some interesting white tufts in the distance, so I dragged poor Sadie along to explore … only to find ourselves up to our paws/ankles in water. Oops, that will teach me to look where I am going. (Only it won’t of course, since I’ve reached this age without learning that lesson!)

Anyhow, those white tufts turned out to be orchids:


I believe them to be Heath Spotted orchids (Dactylorhiza maculata). Edward Pratt, in his book on ‘The Wild Flowers of the Isle of Purbeck’, mentions their love of wet pastures and heaths and cites Corfe West and Middle commons as a prime location to find them.


Once you’ve got your eye in for them, they turn out to be all over the place and strangely homogeneous in their distribution:


There’s the odd bit of clumping, but that is possibly explained by the water depth (they like firmer ground apparently).


Their season is June/July and, as you can see in this photo, bracken is beginning to swamp them in places, although this does seem to be managed. (Areas of bracken were clearly cut or rolled – a practice which reduces vigour and avoids the use of chemicals).


The book on the Purbeck flora describes other interesting orchids in the area, such as Autumn Lady’s tresses and Green-winged, so now I can’t wait for our next trip to Studland to go looking for those!



About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
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13 Responses to Wet feet in search of wild orchids

  1. susurrus says:

    How very beautiful! These are homogeneous in colour too. The paler ones are less common here. We found some tall and sturdy deep pink ones along a moorland path through a boggy place, or at least I think they are the same plant, but their height made me wonder. You are right to say you can be walking along and very nearly miss them among the grasses, but once you’ve tuned your eyes in, more appear.

    • Thank you Susan. I’ve IDed these based on location and flower shape, but they hybridise readily with two other local species, so I can’t be certain that these are pure.

  2. Cathy says:

    They are beautiful. The pink markings are so pretty. Lucky you to stumble across them by chance!

    • Thanks Cathy. After seeing them in the distance I was delighted to find that they were orchids, not cotton-grass. The previous day I was in raptures over masses of pyramidal orchids on the Purbeck Way. There’s no mistaking those!

  3. Eliza Waters says:

    Lovely markings. The two close ups show different patterning. Same species or are there two?

    • It’s a bit of a dark art to me I am afraid. The heath spotted orchids hybridise very easily with common spotted and early marsh orchids. I don’t think the markings are too telling, but the middle lobe of the lower lip is supposed to be smaller. Online photos show examples similar to both my close-ups, but it’s possible that I am showing some genetic mixes.

  4. Paddy Tobin says:

    It is such a thrill to find these beautiful plants. I spent Monday at the same activity.

  5. How exquisite and delicate looking! And the views of your walking meadows make me wish I lived there. Actually I feel a bit expanded and refreshed just seeing the photos. 😌

  6. shoreacres says:

    These are delightful, but I was just as interested to read that you have autumn ladies’ tresses. I do love those, but the field where I could count on finding them has fallen to the evil trio: sold, mowed, and fenced to keep the riff-raff out.

    When I looked at the markings on these, the pattern reminded me of American Germander, but their structure’s much like our snowy orchid. They like a damp environment, too, but they’re found in est Texas rather than my area. They’re blooming just now, but road construction has turned things into a six-hour round trip, and that’s a bit much for me!

    • 😦 to the loss of autumn ladies’ tresses! It’s very hard to bear the oblivious destruction of these precious places. I see what you mean about the patterns on the petals. Funnily enough, I’ve been trying to ID a plant in a local meadow which looks like a germander, but I have not as yet pinned down.

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