For July, the Orchid Observers team are simultaneously excited and fretting. We're excited because we're planning field trips to see the next orchids on our hit list, but we're also concerned about the flower spikes scorching in the sun and wilting. It might be a race against the sun this month to catch July's finest orchids. Not only that but this month's highlight species are some of the trickiest to spot and identify. Please don't let this deter you, take up the challenge and see if you can locate and photograph these beauties.
Bog orchid (Hammarbya paludosa)
The bog orchid (Hammarbya paludosa) is the tiniest of the UK orchid species. © Mike Waller.
Being the tiniest of the UK orchids, the bog orchid can be rather inconspicuous. It's just 4-8cm tall and green and there are only 25 flowers on the flower spike, which are said to smell sweet and cucumber-like.
As its name implies this species lives on bogs, growing among clumps of sphagnum moss. It needs to live in areas that don't dry out, even in a hot summer. When the summer is hot it flowers earlier than when the summer is cool and wet.
Being a bog plant it's our Scottish contributors that are going to have most opportunity to find this one. But there are a few colonies dotted around England, in Cumbria, northwest Yorkshire, Northumberland, one-site in Norfolk, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire and some in the west of Wales.
The bog orchid (Hammarbya paludosa) has very distinct flowers, that small sweet and cucumber-like. © Mike Waller.
Frog Orchid (Coeloglossum viride)
Keep an eye out for the frog orchid (Coeloglossum viride) which is found across the UK. © Fred Rumsey.
The frog orchid can be found across the UK, but only in small localised patches. It is more easily found in the north and west of the UK, having declined in the south due to changes in land management.
It is quite a hard plant to spot as it is only 5-15cm tall and mostly green in colour. But you can find it on short chalk or limestone grasslands in the south, and in all sorts of places in the north, from railway embankments and road verges, to grasslands and dune slacks.
The flowers of the frog orchid have a very enclosed green hood and a long red lower lip, which is lobed at the end. It's classified as vulnerable, so please take extra care when you find this orchid.
The frog orchid (Coeloglossum viride) can be found on chalk and limestone grasslands in the south of England. © Fred Rumsey.
Now for a last chance to see:
Lesser butterfly-orchid (Platanthera bifolia) and Greater butterfly-orchid (Platanthera chlorantha).
Its a last chance to see the greater butterfly-orchid (Platanthera chlorantha). © Mike Waller.
Distributed across the UK the lesser butterfly-orchid and greater butterfly-orchid are really quite difficult to tell apart. But here are some top features to help you distinguish between the two.
Compared to the greater butterfly-orchid, the lesser butterfly-orchid is shorter, it carries less flowers and it usually flowers a little bit later. It can be found on damp heathlands and moorlands, or in deciduous woodland, whilst the greater butterfly-orchid is found on deciduous woodland and chalk grassland.
But the most reliable way of telling the two apart is in the positioning of the pollinia (the pollen bearing structures of the flower). In the lesser butterfly-orchid the pollinia are closer together and parallel to each other, while in the greater butterfly-orchid the pollinia are further apart and slant inwards at the top.
The lesser butterfly-orchid (Platanthera bifolia) can be identified by its parrallel pollinia. © Mike Waller.
The greater butterfly-orchid (Platanthera chlorantha) has pollinia that are further apart and slant inwards.
Of the two, the lesser butterfly-orchid is classified as vulnerable, due to large declines, particularly in south-eastern regions, so again please be extra vigilant when locating this species.
If you manage to find any of the 29 species of orchid we are conducting our research about, then don't forget to take a photo and upload it to the Orchid Observers project here. And if it just gets too hot to go outside then get online and help us transcribe data from our orchid herbarium sheets.
Jade Lauren Cawthray is Citizen Science Project Officer in the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity, where she develops and runs citizen science research projects. Having studied an undergraduate degree in Ecology and Conservation and then a master's degree in Science Communication, Jade is combining her two passions, nature and public engagement, by pursuing a career in citizen science.