Orchids are generally regarded as having brightly coloured rather large flowers but there are many other forms of wild orchid.

There are over 20,000 species worldwide and over 30 species of perennial wild orchids can be found in the UK although some are uncommon or rather localised. They have adapted to many habitats with species specifically occurring from thin chalky soil to bogs. Some prefer open sunny positions while others will only grow in shady locations.

They are a complicated family but the flowers usually have three sepals and three petals with the lower one often modified and brightly coloured to attract pollinating insects, particularly bees.

Some orchid species can be instantly identified while others frequently hybridise so specific identification becomes impossible.

The Early Purple Orchid lives up to its name by occurring from late April and being an intense purple colour although white forms occasionally occur. For many years they could be found in Andrews Wood but gradually declined and this year I could only find one small clump.

However, they can be discovered at many other locations and I have found Gallants Bower, Dartmouth, to be a particularly good site for them.

Common Spotted, Heath Spotted and Southern Marsh Orchids can be common in undisturbed short grassland during June and July. There are a great many to be found in Andrews Wood where, although they have become a complex hybrid mixture of species, they still look extremely attractive. They also appear to be increasing in the nearby areas of Watkins Wood and Woodleigh Wood.

Andrews Wood had a group of Common Twayblade Orchids, which are one of the small flowed species. Their flowers contain an unusual man shaped petal. However, I haven’t seen any at that spot since 2021 so I fear they may have been overwhelmed by more vigorous foliage, although there are a few single plants hiding in less obvious areas around the site.

The Broad-leaved Helleborine is another plant with tiny but distinctively marked flowers which also occurs in Andrews Wood. They seem to be gradually increasing but have very little ‘road sense’ and are mostly growing in the middle of a shady access path. But fortunately it is a little used path and most people who do use it are aware of their presence.

We have attempted to spread seed in safer locations but the tiny dust like seeds don’t germinate well and it takes a couple of years before they reach flowering size.

There is a larger clump in Watkins Wood which is in a slightly safer location on the side of a path.

Orchids in Andrews Wood | Geoff Foale (Geoff Foale)

Common Twayblade - Neottia ovata | Geoff Foale (Geoff Foale)

Early Purple Orchid - Orchis mascula | Geoff Foale (Geoff Foale)

Early Purple Orchid - Orchis mascula white form | Geoff Foale (Geoff Foale)