Wildlife & Nature

Heath spotted-orchid

The Heath spotted-orchid, Dactylorhiza maculata, usually appears in June, its beautiful spikes of pink flowers rising above the long grass of meadows and river pasture.  It prefers the damp, acid soils of heathland, bogs and marshland, flowering best in sunny spots that have been left undisturbed.

Heath spotted-orchids can range from almost pure white to dark pink, and their flowers are mottled and splashed with magenta.  The spikes can grow to about 20 cm in height, and the flowers form a cone shape as they open;  the lower lip is characterised by a pronounced central ‘tooth’. Leaves are long, lance-like and bright green, with spots of reddish-brown;  these are usually hidden by grass or other vegetation.

In the Western Isles, a sub-species exists which is the Hebridean spotted-orchid (ssp. ericetorum);   this is occasionally found on the machair that fringes many western beaches.

The Heath spotted-orchid may sometimes be confused with the Common spotted-orchid, but the latter tends to prefer chalky soils and has a slightly narrower lip to the flowers.   Heath spotted-orchids have a wide and varied range, occurring throughout Europe, in habitat as diverse as coastal marshes and high-altitude moorland.

Mid-June is a great time to look for these lovely orchids;  in fact, one or two seem to have put in an appearance on our lawn.  A great excuse not to mow it!

Photographs copyright © Colin Woolf


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