I know it is an orchid, I am sure it is in the genus Dactylorhiza; I suspect it is a near-albino form of D. fuchsii (common spotted orchid). I cannot be more confident because these orchids are variable, they hybridize, and we'd need to see some more photos showing characters not visible in your photos (like spur geometry).
(I am sure it is not D. fuchsii ssp. okellyi, from the conical shape of the flower spike.)
Also, ssp okellyi doesn't have the leaf spots so far as I am aware, but can have a conical flower shape.
On the other hand it does have narrower leaves :)
They're a nightmare aren't they?
My comments on D. f. ssp. okellyi were based partly on David Lang's 'Orchids of Britain', where he notes the leaves being 'normally unspotted', and the spike being 'square topped'.
In any case, "The taxonomy of Dactylorhiza is very instable and there seem to be as many conflicting views on the genus as there are people studying [it]"
- The Plant Crib, 1998, p.381
Also recorded for Suffolk, is the most common D. f. hybrid, D. x grandis (D. f. x D. praetermissa).
in my experience D.f. ssp. okellyi is entirely white, no spots on the petals at all. The shape and dimensions of the lower lobe does not look quite right to me for straight D. fuchsii either...
I will email the pic to a friend who is an expert on orchids and their hybrids and see what he says and let you know what he declares...
A nice little conundrum... :-)
My friends first impressions was that it was possibly D. maculata - the Heath spotted orchid, but because this prefers acidic soils he was asking if you knew what the pH of your soil was Judy and what other plants, esp. wild plants grow and do well in your garden?
Your friend's impression sounds like a good possibility as our garden is really heathland and is definitely acidic. This area has never been cultivated. Our wildflowers include campions, alkanet, foxgloves, mulleins, bluebells, buttercups and , in autum, a good selection of fungi under sweet chesnut and silver birtch. Pines grow well here too. We decided two years ago to stop mowing except around the house and look what came up!
Thank you for your help.
You are the proud owner of a British orchid :)
From the leaves I think it's the common Spotted Orchid - Dactylorhiza fuchsii.
At the moment the flower shape suggests the Pyramidal Orchid, Anacamptis pyramidalis - but the flower colour/detail look wrong, so I suspect yours will develop the more usual 'tower' shape as it blooms.
Well done - I'm quite envious!
Just don't mow them:)
Thank you both for the information.
The orchid is growing in an area that we have not mown this year. Should we not mow the area at all, or can we mow in the autum if we leave the cuttings in place?
With such orchids, mowing is a concern.
On the one hand, mowing will keep the sward shortish, which will suit the orchid in terms of precluding competition from taller herbs and potentially encroaching scrub.
On the other hand: a) mowing could remove the green leaves, which the plant obviously needs for healthy growth and to keep its underground tubers supplied with nutrient; b) light scrub can be beneficial in that it can allow orchids to grow (I said light scrub) while protecting them from being grazed by sheep, eg.
I think you can indeed mow in autumn - in fact any time once the orchid leaves have started to die-back (a bit like daffodils). The hay meadows in the Alps are cut in late summer, and the orchids there grow in profusion.
Having said that, one tends to notice the species that grow well. There may be others, perhaps later flowering, which are being suppressed by the same mowing regime.
Orchids can cope with relatively poor soil, so from their point of view, removing the mowings would be fine.
Good call Mike.
I would only add that the ground around them should not be dug or disturbed, as a lot of orchids rely on specific local conditions, so disturbing the roots or transplanting them is certainly not recommended :)
Good luck Judy, and do let us know if you get any other orchid species or variants - the common spotted is often found in grassland alongside pyramidal and fragrant orchids for example.
Oh, I forgot...
Many orchids take several years of development (building up the tubers) before they flower for the first time. I remember the first time I found a fly orchid in my field in Surrey (in my twenties), I was delighted. ...And when I looked into it, I was amazed to read that it might have been growing there in a pre-flowering mode, unnoticed by me, for perhaps fifteen years beforehand!
So... for you... you may have noticed the first flowerer of a colony that has been brooding for years. Next year more of them may be ready to flower. I hope so, for you. If you look closely, you may be able to find the leaves of other plants of the same orchid (now you have one to clue you in).
Let us know!
(you might like to make a note of the URL for this discussion in your calendar for next year)
Ah, but before then, methinks you may have cause to ask us about the seed...
Orchid seed is amazingly tiny; like dust.
It is one end of a particular spectrum in evolutionary strategies concerning plant seed. All seeds need three things (OK: maybe more):
a) genes (to 'know' how to make a new plant of the same species,
b) food (from which to start to build a new plant),
c) a trigger (to start germination and growth of the seed),
And then a suitable environment (moisture, air, light and more food to enable metabolism) for continued growth of the plant.
But seeds are food to many creatures, and they have evolved various strategies to cope with-, avoid- or actually benefit from- being eaten. [I'm skipping a lot of discussion here.]
In the particular spectrum I mentioned, at one end, a plant may produce a just few seeds with large stores of food to get them started (eg. chestnuts); at the other end, a plant may produce a large number of seeds with small/no stores of food.
That is what orchids do - their copious seeds have pretty much zero stored food. That enables the parent to produce huge numbers of them (aiding the chances of at least one of them surviving to keep the species going); and the seeds are of little interest as food for animals because they contain almost no fat/starch/sugar. Also, such food-less seeds have a long shelf life - they may persist in the soil for a long time, waiting for just the right microenvironmental conditions before germinating. That also helps ensure the survival of the species.
So how do (food-less) terrestrial orchid seeds start to grow, before they have roots and leaves? They form a symbiotic relationship with fungi in the soil. It is the fungi that provide the initial flow of nutrients for the young orchids. The fungi can also defend against pathogens such as bacteria, if I recall correctly. If you have orchids growing in your garden, you have suitable fungi. So bear that in mind if you consider harvesting and sowing the seed. Probably the best place to sow it is where the parent plant is growing - not in even the best quality commercial compost.
As Charles wrote, do keep an eye out for other species and variants of orchids.
They're fascinating in so many ways (we haven't even mentioned pollination).