LABELLUM landing platform ENTRANCE to spur. SPUR containing Nectar POLLINIA: pollen mass on a stalk to facilitate fertilisation. VISCIDIUM: a sticky disc which attaches to visiting bees. The pollinia in The Lesser Butterfly are parallel and obscure the entrance to the Spur making the plant ideal for smaller insects.
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Other Irish Orchids… their Seasons and their habitats.

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Early Purple Orchid Orchis mascula

There are two pre-eminent features of Orchis mascula; they are early and they are (often) purple! But they are long lasting orchids and grow in a wide variety of habitats. The TOP two images are from exposed upland karst (The Burren) and the lower pair are from a sheltered dark mixed wood at Drumharlow Lake, Co. Roscommon. Of course, these orchids come in a wide range of colours but one wonders are the purple ones by and large more exposed and the paler ones more sheltered?

Key Identiciation features

of Orchis mascula:

1. Like wet mixed woodlands, field mar- gins but also bare limestone. 2. They emerge in March and flower in April 3. In wet woodland glades they can be tall and elegant. 4. The open flower head easily shows up- ward pointing spur — a characteristic of this species 5. Lip is lobed and spotted centrally. 6. Upper stem dark but clad in green leaves (often spotted).
Click image where you see this symbol to get a larger view…
16/5/2018 The Burren has a major interest in Orchid research and conservation. Some of our rare varieties seem secure; some of our common ones are disappearing! Conservation is important as orchids are beautiful and charismatic plants and are always found in quiet and beautiful places covering a range of Habitats. By recording the presence of orchids and showing the background of where they exist, we can add great value to them in both aesthetic and economic terms. In crass commercial terms having 3 magnificent Early Purples standing triumphant over a cliff looking across to a limestone desert, is of more commercial benefit to an area than having it all planted with coniferous forestry? We are often surprised (and alarmed) to see the effort people go to remove karst topography around the fringes of The Burren. It is a massive undertaking which destroys tourism… all for what? This page celebrates ‘other orchids’ as they appear through the Seasons. You will find our work on Marsh Orchids and Helleborines (both members of the orchid family) elsewhere.
The first orchid to be seen every year in Ireland. Often in February at the edge of lawns or on woodland edges, their long dark green heavily blotched leaves lying flat on the ground are the first signs of this orchid emerging. They then quickly grow, bud and flower. They are unusual in enjoying both wet and very dry locations, from the open Limestone of The Burren to the damp slopes of flushes in old decaying native woodlands where they can grow large and delicate displaying a wide range of colours within the one community.

Green Winged Orchid Anacamptis morio / Orchis morio

Now very hard to find, this little orchid is both charming and delicate. It is an orchid (nowadays) of Eskers and Drumlins. i.e high, well drained ridges of sand and gravel standing above grassland that is not often ‘improved’. Improved grassland is the term used for grazing land that has been modernised. Boundaries removed to make bigger fields easier for machinery to work or stock to graze. Typically the larger fields will be heavily fertilised and this difference is immediately obvious in the lushness and height of the grass produced. Both the high grass and the high level of fertilisation damages this species and it will struggle to maintain a presence on elevated parts of a farm or a wild area which has not yet been agriculturally improved. This species NEEDS CONSERVATION be it through Grant Schemes such as GLAS or landowners commitment to biodiversity or through local conservation groups working with local farmers. It would be a pity to lose this species and it seems to be one of those species that is most vulnerable to extinction. Probably because it is dependent on old grassland with sheltered verges and does not really have an alternative habitat like the way the Early Purple Orchid exploits road verges, wet woodlands and even rocky landscape. Habitats like these should be set aside to allow native biodiversity survive. This species is not presently listed on the Flora Protection List which might help fund such work.
A short section of Esker fenced in the middle. The near part contains many Green Winged Orchids but these will probably be grazed as the plots are rotated?
Low-lying field at esker end with raised bog in the background. Few orchids remain in the high part of field.
Typical present habitat for the Green Winged Orchid. Fields running down to Shannon have been drained and improved. Near upland provides sole refuge.

A beautiful little Orchid.

We have deliberately set Habitat and Conservation concerns above the charm and attraction of the Orchid. The Green Winged Orchid is a pet but one we may lose unless its numbers are monitored. It is a diminutive species that could simply slide away unnoticed. Two days photography were allocated to this site but with wind and rain our photo options were limited. The best images came from this pale pink plant. (LEFT) There is something about this so soft pink against the dark green that makes the plant stand out. Equally, this pattern of colour best shows off the green lines on the wings which, presumably act as a lure for passing bees?  Like the somewhat similar Early Purple Orchid (now in a different genus), this species also has an upward pointing spur. Very striking but this is an orchid with some tricks up its sleeve.

Fooling the Bees:

There is an interesting story on Brittanic Blog which describes how this plant misleads the Bees. It does not produce nectar but does have a nectar-like scent and ornate patterned wings (lateral sepals) to attract fertilisation. Not getting food insects try out many plants and this allows fertilisation with multiple parents! The Green Winged can be self fertile but using insects for fertilisation it can maintain more genetic diversity.

The colour Purple:

The ‘standard’ colour is purple, very similar in tone to the Early Purple Orchid. The plants also flower at the same time, and they can grow together, so these wing markings are a routine feature to check that it is indeed the rarer cousin one is looking at. While striking on the pink and white variants the purple can drown out the veins so that they look almost black. However, the Green Winged Orchid also differs in not having so many black spots on the labellum and none on the leaves.


A midlands plant, this is not a species we have seen in the West of Ireland. Due to habitat pressure it seems to be retreating to glacial hillocks abundant in  the central plain of Ireland. Eskers are sub-glacial streams leaving a long line of gravelly hills and Drumlins are deposits of till in elongated circular shapes where the glaciers slowed down and deposited their huge amounts of boulders, stone, gravel etc..
The Ice Age created our countries, Britain and Ireland, and have left two countries that share very similar patterns of Geomorphology and a somewhat shared catalog of plants and animals  — though Ireland being separated longer has fewer species. In seeking out the increasingly rare Green Winged Orchid we have looked at maps showing their special retreats, Eskers and Drumlins around the centre of Ireland (Athlone). The best we have seen is The BRITICE Glacial Map v2.0 : This is an Interactive Map for Britain and Ireland showing the movement of the ice sheet and all the features remaining  after it. As far as we know this is Open Access. It is provided by The University of Sheffield, Department of Geography and is a great resource. It is the easiest way we know to explore your local Esker in April or May and record any orchids you find. Many thanks to them.

Map of the Ice Age!

Dense-flowered Orchid Neotinea maculata

A scarc e but dependable orchid — at least in The Burren where we know it from. It is widely distributed over the limestone hills in loose groups. Sometimes you struggle to find one but then a small group together is met and eventually 20 or more specimens may be found over a 100m sq. It is hard to get perfect specimens as the flowering period is short and the early flowers quickly wither or are damaged. In the Rockforest to Leitra area of The Burren it occurs in many groups over a 2km length mainly to the west of the road and between 25m and 80m altitude. There are probably good numbers in this area but they are hard to track down.

Small White Orchid Pseudoorchis albida

This is our home-patch with a different but parallel little white orchid. Unrelated, this and the Dense Flowered Orchid share certain habitat preferences and flower at a similar time. This species loves high rough pastures and where these are ‘improved’ it will disappear or move to the field margins. An experienced botanical companion of ours used always walk to the middle of a tussocky pasture to start his search; we looked along the walls! This reflected our different expectations; the orchid used to occur through the field, now it was occurring on walls and humps and drain edges. Intensification of grazing seemed to be the cause and the Small White was being forced out of its normal home and surviving on dryer locations. That’s a theory anyway? Other possibilities include the rough pastures becoming wetter and more overgrown. But the Cavan site we have in mind remains popular with Dactylorhyzids and other orchids, sturdier plants that can outgrow the rushes? Unfortunately many farms in the mountains of north west Cavan are being modernised and improved as they need to be and rough pasture is becoming green and closely cropped. This is an area of very small fields and low walls. These are becoming the last refuge of this plant in the area. This species is protected by a Flora Protection Order.

The Plant:

In Ireland the flowers open at the end of May and are variable depending on weather conditions. Ideally they can be tall with a curved stem and an inflorescence containing over 50 very small flowers. The bracts are short and the labellum is split like a snake’s tongue. It has three prongs with the middle prong being longest in Irish plants. (There is a slightly different variety found in upland ares of mainland Europe.) The plant has a yellowish white flower almost appearing pure white in bright sunshine. This is a plant that seems to love sunshine and often faces the afternoon sun. Its widespread presence but in low numbers implies that it is marginalised and struggling in the Irish climate. It is a rare plant and a valuable one and can be very beautiful when seen at the height of flowering on a calm warm sunny day. Otherwise it is hard to photograph with the rain and the winds associated with hills.

The Habitat:

All our photographs are taken in Co. Cavan from 3 clusters forming a long diverse ‘colony’ on the North West facing foothills of The Playbank, a Leitrim Mountain overlooking a strip of hilly paddocks south of the N200 between Dowra and Glangevlin. It is a typical site for this species with an altitude of from 120 - 170m. We have explored the area extensively and the orchids do not occur further up or on the other (Leitrim) side of the mountain. The fields are all sloping towards the road and large drains are in place but, in recent years, the site remains moist and many of the orchids seem to be availing of drier perches on the remains of tumbled down stone walls or on the edges or recently made deep drains. There is a track of 1.14km parallel to the road and staying close to the 150m contour which winds through a series of small walled paddocks where Small Whites  are known to occur or may likely occur.

Other Locations:

We know this species from Cos. Cavan, Sligo and Leitrim. We have yet to find them in Co. Roscommon but they undoubtedly occur. The Sligo site has been studied well but it is not a large colony but well dispersed and present at a height from 190 - 210m. This is significantly higher than the Cavan location. In each location when you move above their comfort zone occurrences of specimens quickly dries up. Obviously water, ground condition, aspect and weather will play an impact but it is important to know the height of a search, or you may be wasting your time. Hopefully new sites will be found this Summer. The species is widespread and grows well in the right conditions. But the greening of Ireland — brown scrubby small fields being replaced with large even green fields — will marginalise this species. The more sites known the safer the species will be. Recording and conservation work, like we have done with Spiranthes romanzoffiana  is often welcomed by the landowners as it may provide them with a reason for maintaining protected zones for the nature we love.

Heath Spotted Orchid Dactylorhiza maculata

This orchid prefers acid soils or wet marshes. It is found in great numbers if conditions are ideal, as seen in this isolated acidified meadow where over a 1,000 occurred. INSET: One of the darker specimens showing the totally spotted labellum with its typical 3 lobes, the laterals rounded and ‘blousey’ with a pointed smaller middle lobe. BELOW Heath Habitat

Common Spotted Orchid D. fuchsii

The familiar orchid of roadside edges, banks, old meadows and abandoned farmland and quarries. Like many orchids this is a lime loving species. While widespread it is a magnificent orchid especially when conditions are ideal and a very large plant arises (80cm) These quarry specimens were truly magnificent with a large spike containing a 100 or so flowers. But what was special was how perfect every flower was. In a flower head this large typically lower flowers would rapidly show signs of withering or fly damage. This plant must have flowered quickly under ideal nutrient and weather conditions. It was growing in an area of cut limestone shelf with many large sharp boulders and some small pools. In other areas very little was growing on the abandoned limestone slab. The colour is also the commonest of the Common Spotted.  Far RIGHT A large specimen of Heath Spotted Orchid growing in damp woodland beside a lane north Of L. Allen. Many lush specimens were located here in a habitat that suited them well but totally different to the needs of the Common Spotted Orchid. LEFT and BELOW Three further specimens of Common Spotted Orchid showing the wide variety of form and colour D. fuchsii can have. However, they all have three similar sized lobes with the central lobe being the longest.
A close up of a flower, and a large group of Heath Spotted Orchids, growing along the same lane where the large specimen above was found. This was a waterlogged area with a very large area of Royal Ferns signifying that the water was probably slightly peaty and acidic with nearby sphagnum pools and Bog Myrtle. This is an area near the Shannon which feeds into L. Allen. Lough Allen is a mesotrophic lake whereas many lakes in the North West of Ireland would be a hard water limestone lakes. This obviously affects which species of Spotted Orchid grows in a partiular place.
RIGHT: Wet ferny scrubland
Part of a very large colony in Drumharlow Wood, Roscommon, showing the lovely pattern of cream and purple as the flower stalk unravels.
A close up of a near perfect specimen from the Woods showing all the features of this well spaced flowerhead. The large labellum (seen RIGHT) starts uppermost in the bud but the stem/ovary rotates as the flower opens to provide a landing place for insects.
Charles Darwin was the first to show how insects fertilised many orchids and how those orchids adapted their flowers to attract particular pollinators. His work was largely done in a small sloping meadow below his house in Down in the London Borough of Bromley. The HOUSE and meadow are a must for anyone interested in orchids
Image of book kindly provided by Wikimedia Commons
Read this remarkable work HERE…  © John van Wyhe, ed. 2002- The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online
A ‘white’ but not albino orchid. This one has the purple spots on the labellum, and elsewhere, making it perhaps the most attractive variety. For an amazing collection of large albino Early Purple Orchids please see our BURREN page.
A late arrival bursting up through a sloping wet meadow on the north shore of L. Allen beside the charming Marsh Violet.
Another very delicate and tall soft pink Early Purple growing in deep wet woodland fringes (Drumharlow). Associated with Bird’s Nest Orchid and Broad Leaved Helleborines and Wood Avens. These woodland specimens clearly seek light and often have paler colours than plants growing in sunlight. Whether this is a genetic variation or just an adaption to lack of sunlight is not clear…
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ABOVE: Typical habitat for Neotinea in The Burren. They are spread all over this landscape as individuals or small clusters. Below the boulder on the skyline and above it to the small bush on the Right, they occur either indiviidually or in small clusters. This location is Leitra, the photograph taken from the road. It also grows along this road lower down as it goes through Rockforest.
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NOTE: Many of the species described in this page are rare and protected under the terms of the current Flora Protection Order 2015. This puts obligations on all of us to conserve our Biodiversity. BUT, it also helps access to GLÁS farm support for landowners who protect these plants.

Greater Butterfly Orchid Planthera chlorantha

This plant is gorgeous. It can be magnificent, ranging in height from 30 - 50 cms. It is very local now but where conditions are good it will flower in good numbers at the end of June. A field full of these is a spectacle worth enjoying. Sadly, it doesn’t stay long with lower flowers going brown around the edges and the whole flower- head  getting pock marked by flies. The flowers open at a great rate as soon as the weather is right. This is a plant which we have come across in gently sloping hills with a preference for drier slopes and sunny aspects. It also requires traditionally managed meadows where the plants have time to reproduce and produce seeds — so Autumn cutting is ideal for this species. The two photographs shown RIGHT are of the same specimen taken a week apart; it shows how quickly the flowers develop. A large freshly opening flowerhead (such as shown RIGHT) is a very dramatic plant. They also can be imposing standing tall on a hilly limestone escarpment, as in The Cavan Burren. (BELOW) This one was blown over and its stem lies flat on the ground. But it displays many large perfect flowers as typically occurs when found in alkaline areas.

Lesser Butterfly Orchid Planthera bifolia

Here we present two related orchids varying mainly in size and habitat preference. The Lesser Butterfly Orchid is very much a plant of low rolling wet and acidic hills where it can flower in great numbers in among the rushes and mosses. It is an attractive species and if wasn’t for its bigger cousin, and its abundance, could be ranked as one of Ireland’s most charming plants. But, it is still worth having a close look if you come across it in the foothills of Leitrim, Roscommon, Sligo and anywhere in Ireland.
ABOVE Close up of budding plant showing many unique features of the species. Bracts are clasped very tight under flower buds and the labellum has a distinctive kink at the end when seen sideways; this appears as an enlargement when viewed from the front. The flowers are further apart than on the Lesser and the spurs are shorter and more curved. The 2 images below show a more standard way of identifying the species. The Pollinia (carrying pollen) are diverging exposing the entrance to the nectar containing spur. The pollinia can be quickly detached by Bees!
Cavan Burren
Boyle, Co. Roscommon (all 3 images)

Key Identiciation features

of Planthera species:

1. Size and Habitat are key features. The two plants can occur together but usually one location favours one species and the other one is scarce or absent. 2. In ideal situations there is a big difference in size with the Lesser Butterfly Orchid often appearing a bit weedy as if struggling in often wet and miserable conditions. The Greater Butterfly Orchid can be twice as tall as the Lesser. 3. Both species emerge in late June, flower and start to die off quickly. 4. The character of flowers are different with the chlorantha having larger flowers better spaced  though they may still be at strange angles! 5. In chlorantha the lower edge of the sepal is held ‘horizontal’ but with a big bulge. It resembles a Pilot’s wings symbol? 6. In bifolia both edges of the sepal are sloping downwards and are narrower and plainer. 7. In placing the two species side by side qualitative differences in lateral Sepals can be identified. These are illustrated RIGHT… 8. The spur is narrower and thinner in bifolia  presumably adapted for a different fertilisation partner? 9. On going through our photographs the tip of the spur in chlorantha seems enlarged; it is actually folded as can be seen in a side view. 10. Folded spur tip is not so evident in the Lesser Butterfly Orchid.
P. chlorantha
P. bifolia

Fly Orchid Ophrys insectifera (‘insect carrying’)

Another pair of two related orchids of similar size and habitat preference. Sadly, there are several other interesting Ophrys orchids on the neighbouring island — all interesting and varied. The Early Spider Orchid, a rare south coast (UK) plant expanding its range considerably on the tunneling waste deposited at Samphire Hoe near where the Cross Channel Tunnel enters the sea. Some of these species are fertilised by insects, others are self-fertilising. The two species we have in Ireland occur in many counties but are very dependent on alkaline habitats be they on limestone or shingle. The Bee Orchid is widespread but the Fly Orchid likes limestone pavement or limestone excavations and, hence, The Burren is a particular niche for this species. It is also reproductively very specialised and dependent on a particular wasp and… less successful!

Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera

One of our favourite orchids; rare enough to brighten a day when you come across it and widespread enough to turn up in a variety of habitats and locations when you may not be expecting it. Very variable but can be strikingly beautiful when encountered unexpectedly in a search for something else. A short lived flower which quickly opens and dies especially in hot weather. It is unusual to see a tall specimen, and this plant is never as tall as the Fly Orchid with all its flowers open and perfect.

Habitat and Natural History.

These three images of Fly Orchids are from The Burren where the plant will flower from early May until June. Flowers open and wither very quickly depending on weather and here we have selected some of the better specimens we have seen over the years. They grow on the floor of an abandoned quarry or at woodland edges in short grass where they are very vulnerable to grazing sheep. Consequently they are never abundant and rough bouldery ground is the best place to find them. The often seem to seek protection from a large boulder. It is exceptional to see a tall specimen with 10 or 12 flowers as they can be lanky and easily nibbled by a passing predator. These plants unravel their surprising flowers very quickly going from tightly encased buds to the magic of this ‘case’ being opened and a strange fly/wasp appearing!

Conservation of this Species?

For some specific reason this species is not nearly as widespread as its cousin, the Bee Orchid. They occur together but the Bee Orchid is well known for exploiting marginal limey ground (such as road verges) whereas the Fly Orchid doesn’t avail of such opportunities and prefers to stay in long established areas. As it is a species that requires fertilisation (by solitary Wasps), it may be more restricted to living in a location where that species is frequent and of long standing — such as The Burren. As long as such habitats are protected (as they are in The Burren National Park) the species will be secure but it would be nice to see it occurring  more widely. We would be very interested in knowing of more localities for this species and particularly in Roscommon (where we now live). It is a suitable county largely covered in limestone with many areas of calcareous marshes and springs… but we know no records!!!

Early Flowering.

The two plants LEFT are early May specimens with the bottom two flowers just opening. Unlike the Bee Orchid the Sepals are not coloured and act like a cradle for the emerging bait. It’s a less realistic lure than the Bee Orchids but its colour and smell evidently do attract visitors as the species is dependent on such fertilisation for its survival, as it is not self-fertilising. It is, consequently slow to establish in new separate colonies. Near LEFT One can imagine the sepals of the lower flower just gaping open to release the monster within! At this stage the flower points upwards but quickly separates the two lower sepals and the flower hangs straight down waiting to be fertilised. The upper flower shows the anatomy of this orchid. Pollen is concentrated in special organs at the top of the flower with the pollen collected like a cotton bud at the tip. These pollinia are soft white spheres held under the rostrum beneath the upper sepal and ready to transfer pollen to any visiting insect — which then transfers it to the stigma of another specimen. RIGHT and INSET  Transparent Burnet Moths, *Zygaena purpuralis, are attracted to these flowers though it  is not known if they can fertilise the Fly Orchid. Work in Britain indicates that they are fertilised by just 2 species of Argogorytes wasp; we have not seen these on any Fly Orchids but this wasp occurs in Ireland. Males wasps are attracted to the Fly Orchid more by the scent they release than the shape of the lure. 
RIGHT: A solitary wasp, Argogorytes mystaceus, is one of the main pollinators. The male tries to mate with the orchid and collects pollinia in the process. PHOTO from WikiMedia with thanks to James Lindsey at Ecology of Commanster

Bee Orchid reproduction:

Quite different from the Fly Orchid, this species is largely self fertilising. Surprising in a way as one often associates this methodology with cleistogamous species, i.e flowers that are fertilised before they even open. In the Bee Orchid the anther (ending in the pointed tip visible in the centre of the flower) can be seen. The pollinia are nurtured there but quickly detach as soon as the flower opens leaving the pollinia and long stipes hanging directly in front of the stigma. Fertilisation simply occurs when these two organs come in contact. It is highly effective, produces numerous seeds and only requires the presence of one plant to successfully reproduce. These seeds, as all orchids, are tiny and dispersed by the wind. Of course, variants are limited by this process and the vast majority of Bee Orchids are of standard appearance. White Bee Orchids are rare and may breed true or replicate themselves vegetatively?

Why differences occur in


Darwin’s question, and Darwin did a lot of his research on Orchids. Here we have two species, one that is widespread and successful and one that is rare and localised. Good sex leads to a healthy population and the Bee Orchid has evolved and prospered on that premise. It is assumed that both closely related species evolved their display to attract mates. The ‘Fly’ has little resemblance to a living fly but it secretes a scent that appeals to male wasps. These are essential in the life cycle of this species. The Bee Orchid went one step further and, by lengthening its pollinia, it has brought pollen directly to the stigma of the same flower. No pollen carrier is essential. Instantly, a successful plan for a widespread species…
LEFT These newly opened flowers show the development of the male part of this unique fertilisation regime. The pollinia are still attached to the site where they develop. Whereas, in the illustration above the pollinia are ‘swinging free’ in front of the stigma making contact and fertilisation inevitable. NB. Please remember to enlarge these images! The significant evolutionary benefit is that the Bee Orchids  need no other partner whereas the Fly Orchids survival depends on visiting insects (solitary wasps) and other nearby plants to complete the fertilisation. This is the simple explanation for the commonness and widespread occurrence of the Bee Orchid as compared to the Fly Orchid RIGHT Close up of Anther, pollinia and Stigma as viewed from the front. This flower is still waiting for its pollinia to descend. 
RIGHT This is the chlorantha variety of the Bee Orchid growing outside a Church in Co. Kildare. The normal ‘cyan’ colouration is absent as the anthocyanins which colour flowers purple are missing. Hence this plant has white sepals and yellow elsewhere. Such variations mean that sometimes, at least, real fertilisation between separate plants has occurred.
* No reference to this Moth fertilising Fly Orchids has been found in a detailed search of the literature. But two species of digger wasps are believed to do so. The males of the species Argogorytes mystaceus, apparently  emerge a week or so earlier than the females and are anxious to find another wasp to mate with. There is now proof that they visit Fly Orchids attracted by the scent and proceed to get amorous with them. Then, males being males, they look around for another partner, pending their real wasp partners hatching, and thus is fertilisation in the Fly Orchid achieved. A very high risk strategy one would think and one which puts this orchid at risk of extinction. It is, therefore, a conservation candidate.
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Birds Nest Orchid Neottia nidus-avis

A long lasting interesting saprophytic orchid which emerges early and lasts through much of the Summer. Indeed dead stalks can be seen the following year and, from a distance, look similar to the next generation of this orchid. This species is widespread but only in small numbers and occurs less frequently in large colonies. It is always found in shaded woodlands with bare floors, i.e. mainly Beech woodlands, and it can be looked for within 2 - 3 metres of the tree trunk. It thrives in alkaline conditions and this suits the above habitat where the Park these come from has numerous limestone escarpments and underground rivers. It does not photosynthesise so lacks colour but it does produce flowers which are fertilised by flies (Diptera) which flock to it and are the only fertilsing agents we have seen.
ABOVE: A typical scene at Lough Key Forest Park, Co. Roscommon, where this orchid occurs in several dispersed colonies. This is the biggest (at present) and can have as many as 80 specimens in a small patch around one big tree and a few smaller ones. These photographs are from June when a wide range of sizes can be seen with some small plants still emerging in the right of this picture.

Twayblade Neottia ovata

The Twayblades, of which only one is shown here, are very interesting, curious and widespread orchids. The Common Twayblade is abundant throughout Ireland so tends not to demand attention — just quietly requests it when it appears amongst posher Orchids! It is fortunate that we have managed to collect some varied photographs of this impressive plant. This is a very succesful species covering a wide variety of habitats, exploiting a range of fertilising insects, and (apparently) able to form bonds with many types of mychorrhizal associates in its process of developing a sturdy plant from a little seed. Whereas many orchids grow in very specific environments, this orchid will happily grow on any place where it is undisturbed, rough land or forest borders, on lakeshores and on bogs. The large group on the LEFT is from Murvagh in Co. Donegal where forestry has spread onto sea dunes and created stable sandy soil where this cluster of large specimens was photographed. Like the Fly Orchid, the Twayblade is often fertilised by solitary wasps and other insects. Where they occur these plants are often found in large dispersed groups suggesting an effective fertilisation method either by lateral buds or by the active insect route!
The flowering spike is characteristically an olive yellow colour but can be pure green in early stages if plant is well watered. This species seems to be adaptable to hot sun-baked habitats with a dry clay/grit soil. Its name derives from two monstrous leaves (the “twayblades” of old english origin). Subsequently leaves are few and far between and the plant goes on to produce numerous flowers (20 - 100), often bright yellow, with the ‘long skinny legs’ similar to those seen in the anthropomorphic orchids such as the Man Orchid — unfortunately absent from Ireland. The upper flower has a rostellum over the labellum with a gluey secretion which helps cement the pollinia onto the back of any visiting wasps, etc. A very secure form of gene transfer as can be shown by the large set of fertilisied flowers, looking like perforated chinese lanterns, seen in the mature specimen on far RIGHT.
BELOW: A series of emerging and budding fresh Twayblades in early Summer showing a meadow habitat, a coniferous forest floor, lakeshore and wasteland habitat.
Successfully fertilised Summer ovaries fattening and developing seed releasing bands typical of the larger orchid  fruits.
A large head of flowers with swelling ovaries at top whilst still developing new buds on lower part of stalk
This little inset shows, we believe, the Rostellum that extends over any Pollinators and  secretes a sticky fluid that attaches the pollinia to the backs of visiting flies. Thus effectively ensuring the survival and abundance of this species! (Please ENLARGE THIS PHOTO!)

Pyramidal Orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis

Our favourite seaside orchids; these plants can be diminutive and dense red or can be tall magnificent and deep pinkish purple. Typically occur on sand dunes, tidal washes behind beaches and in derelict coniferous forests close to the sea. It also loves quarries, wasteland, and roadside verges. The white specimen below was found on a roundabout off a busy Motorway in England. Always interesting and having a particularly dense flower-head with numerous florets packed tightly together. The description ‘pyramidal’ is accurate especially for fresh flowers of good length with a flat base and flowers so close together it looks like an artificial construct. A smaller rounder flower-head is described from the west of Ireland The two large photographs (RIGHT) give a good view of the flower-head structure and the individual florets which are unusual in having a large central Labellum (petal) with 3 distinct lobes matched with lateral petals which are almost invisible RIGHT: Fertilisation Flowers are at their peak in June and July when the butterflies and moths that feed on them are at their most abundant. The Burnet Moths can always be seen feeding on them on hot days at Strandhill in Co. Sligo where the picture (RIGHT) was taken. This is another species that was researched by Darwin in his determination to explain how everything was adapted to its environment. We have never seen other species on Pyramidal Orchids and it must be presumed that they are the main day time fertiliser of this species in Ireland.
LEFT A perfect pyramid! Each flower has a 3 pointed labellum with the two other very small petals on the margins RIGHT Closer view of the flowers showing how this plant is remarkably tightly packed. In this specimen the spurs can be seen through the opening flowers at the front and their remarkable length and amazing way they are layered one on top of the other, can be appreciated. The Spurs are long and thin and slightly curved so need an insect with a long thin proboscis to reach the nectar below. A long proboscis allows more than one pollinia to be attached to a moth at one time. We hope to do further research and to try and record images of this Moth with pollinia. However, it is clear that the Burnet Moth is probably the main daytime pollinator of this orchid in the west of Ireland
RIGHT A sturdy plant with most buds yet to open. These orchids have colourless leaves tightly positioned against the stem and will have one or two loose flowers along the stem below the main flower- head. Specimens can be up to 30cms and normally occur in loose or dense groups. Reproduction is, presumably, by seed but also must include an element of vegetative reproduction as this species seems to consistently occur in favoured areas rather than randomly through the forest. The availability of water and appropriate mycorhizza  in the soil must have a big role in helping them to germinate (or produce new shoots) that re-appear year after year. In our experience this is a plant that is loyal to a location and, unless a site suffers major damage, it will re-appear year after year.
LEFT: A House Fly exploring a mature Bird’s nest Orchid. This species occurs throughout Western Europe but is restricted to the southern part of Finland. Perhaps this is due to climate or reflects the distribution of its mycorrhizal associate Rhizoctonia neottiae.  In Ireland this species produces millions of tiny airborne seeds. The fact that the plant is not more common reflects the availability of good limy substrate and woodland and, also the presence of a fungal partner. Without this a new plant will not be produced… However R. neottia seems to be universal. For more details read this iNaturalist article.
Habitat and Anatomy: These pictures are typical of the broad habitat preference of this species. It likes dark woods. In limestone areas Beech Woods will predominate and in these situations these plants suddenly appear, as if by magic, from the leaf litter. No! These are not germinating from the litter but have over many years built up an association with an underground fungus. The delicate roots of the Bird’s Nest are penetrated by the fungal hyphae which must benefit (feed) from the fungus. But the fungus also provides the energy and reserves for this Orchid to survive for many years and keep re- appearing, flowering and producing more seed, without any need for sunshine or photosynthesis to produce its own sugars and starches.
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Fragrant Orchids Gymnadenia spp.

Please NOTE: we have covered this group elsewhere and invite you to study our …

Fragrant Orchid page…

and then come back to us here for our next seasonal species to be explored, i.e. the Frog Orchid and the elusive Bog Orchid. With these we are getting into mid-Summer orchids leaving only the 2 Spiranthes to be summarised and explored.

Get in Touch!

Anyone wishing to comment on this work or suggest corrections please do contact us HERE or through any of the Contact Links at the top of all our pages. Similarly we are more than happy to give personal information to Flower Lovers from Britain or Europe (or anywhere else) and can, with particularly rare species, give you guidance as to where to find them.

Orchid Conservation:

Orchids are a very good indication of a reduction of biodiversity through land use pressure and excessive monoculture. They vary, but many thrive on marginal land which has not been worth bringing into mainstream farming in the past. However heavy machinery can turn karst into pasture with disastrous results for biodiversity. Fortunately many are realising there are better ways to go…
Two images of the many and varied forms of Fragrant Orchids. Three species occur in Ireland; two of these are frequent and widespread. Click on this IMAGE or the Links in the text panel to go to our separate feature on these beautiful and charismatic orchids…

Frog Orchid Dactylorhiza viridis

Not a very rare species but a charming plant and one we have come across in diverse and special places. This orchid has recently joined the large Dactylorhiza group of orchids which embraces both the Marsh Orchids and many other species described on this current page. We are taxonomically neutral on these classification changes but sometimes people can go too far with the reasons and very complex methodologies they use to fragment names of groups that naturalists have been happy to accept over a long period. So, welcome back little Frog, formerly the only species in an esoteric genus called Coeloglossum and now mixing with the big fellas. The Frog Orchid in Ireland seems to be a species of wilder less populated areas. We know it from isolated hills and mountains and coastal machair and settled dunes. It can be diminutive and subdued but when spotted and studied it is, we think, one of our more attractive and beautiful orchids. But when stranded on a dry mountain, remaining low and surrounded by longer grass, it not only can be easily missed but seems to remain largely plain green failing to develop the subtle shades of mauve and pink and red that, along with its comical appearance, gives this plant a lot of character. Distribution is very patchy and, like many orchids, we often wonder what exactly attracts this species to a particular place. For example on Kesh Mountain (Co. Sligo) this plant occurs along a short stretch of an overgrown path ascending the eastern flank of this mountain. But after 50 meters or so, it disappears even though the conditions seem similar. We have explored this area for this species quite regularly in the past few years and it still occurs in only one favourite spot. And this is a species that is not afraid of height growing both on mountains and at sea level in Sligo and Donegal? This is a classic indication of why orchids are a natural indicator of a bio-rich countryside and a key to protecting the natural biodiversity we have enjoyed in Ireland for centuries. These modest orchids, like the Green-winged Orchid, are very vulnerable to land development and improvement and if we don’t monitor and record them they will disappear perhaps more quickly than some of the more significant species that have always been rare and whose very rarity affords them a degree of respect and protection?
We have labeled some features of this confusing flower above.. . Each flower appears hooded by petals and sepals sandwiched together. The central (lower?) petal is extended greatly and forked like a snakes tongue, but these lips (and flowers) point in different directions unlike most other orchids Each flower is supported by a matching bract. The bracts and sepals in particular bear the striking reddish colours that makes this plant so attractive. The bracts are sturdy and seem to support the bud as it develops and twists! BELOW, a white flowered specimen indicating a genetic change (albino) removing dark pigments from both leaves and flowers, not common apparently?

<<<  CHLOROTIC  versus   ALBINO >>>

(Two pale plants for two different reasons.)

One of our heroes taught us a mnemonic; it relates to plant nutrition!

C HOPKINS CaFe MightyGoodClass

Many orchids demand a high lime content (Calcium) in their soil. This comes from limestone bedrock, chalk or chalky gravel, shells from recent marine deposits such as beaches, dunes, etc. The other essential elements listed in the mnemonic (50 years ago!) are C  for Carbon, H for Hydrogen, O for Oxygen, P for Phosphorus, K for Potassium, I for Iodine, N for Nitrogen, S for Sulphur, Ca for Calcium and Fe for Iron. Mg, which  he pronounced as ‘Mighty Good’, was Magnesium and our esteemed teacher added Cl for Chlorine to the list invoking the hippy buzz word of the era ‘class!’ to make it stick in teenage heads! If by any chance he comes across this paragraph, our love and respect and God bless you for living so well and so long. Last heard of, still botanising in NW Ireland several years ago! So, there’s a handy guide for you as to the mineral needs of plants, wild or cultivated. They also need water as yellowing in plants can be an indication of drought as well as lack of essential elements. LEFT: If a trait is genetic it will be uniform; if it is variable then suspect an environmental factor or an unhealthy plant. But, the yellowish plant on the LEFT was actually quite a healthy specimen?

Flower Colour:

Variable — but seems to be indicative of conditions. All were growing on a lime substrate but the very standard coloration (LEFT) reflects a medium sized plant in good conditions. The greener plant (ABOVE) is typically of Frog Orchids found in wetter conditions, as indicated in this photograph by the moss and long grass present. Finally the very deep russet coloured flower shown at the TOP RIGHT of this profile reflects the type of flower seen in hot dry conditions. e.g. on a colonised sand hill at SheskinMore Nature Reserve in West Donegal

Distribution and Conservation:

Whilst still a familiar species this orchid is probably under threat. It does seem to seek out wet, hilly, or stony areas not ideal for development. Also, it is very tolerant of height unlike some mountain species (Dense- flowered and Small White Orchids) which in Ireland rarely prosper much above 200m. The specimens above were on Kesh Corran Mountain at about 300m. The only risk at this site was the overwhelming of the path/site by heather which by now has taken over the flat top of the mountain and a portion of the upper east facing slopes. Hopefully the limited casual grazing and the migration of cattle will keep the path and the area open enough for a good population of Frog orchids to survive. Most of the specimens found were just off the rough grassy path though some spectacular plants survived for a season directly in line with the track of cattle movement. This is a Holarctic species found in cooler places in Europe, Asia and North America.
Forked Labellum
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Bog Orchid Hammarbya paludosa

Spot the Orchid?           (ABOVE)

Yes, there is a Bog Orchid in this picture. We left the image large so you can see the problems of spotting this species. Plus, this specimen, unusually, is growing in long grass. (RIGHT) An aerial view of the Bog Orchid site in Mayo. The green ring is a broad outline of where they can be found. The blue lines outline a small river, the Sruffaungarve. A branch of this stream runs from the small ponds at the top of the mountain into the lake. This orchid produces small ‘bulbs’ on its lower leaves and we thought they might originate in the ponds on top of the mountain. (Contd.>>>)


However the stream from the ponds bypasses the rivulets along which the new generation of Bog orchids were found.. As you can see from Frances’s excellent photos below these bulbils probably form the main source of new stock on sites such as this. The area consists of small basins of water with a mere tap flow of water through them (in Summer). But Bog Orchids do flower, fertilise and produce seed which may also be distributed down the mountain by water flow? The yellow lines on the map represent the 200m. and 210m. contours. (Acknowledgements to MapBox and OpenStreetMap for the map. Highlighted features are by )
This species has a very interesting vegetative mode of propagation. whereby the lower leaves emerging from ground or moss produce ‘marginal bulbils’ which detach and will either land beside the parent plant or are washed further down the hill. On reaching slower water they settle and immediately start to grow producing ‘an anchor’ (which we can call a root) and then they start to produce further bulbils… and so this very effective process carries on and stocks are maintained vegetatively by these ‘offshoots’ which are produced abundantly! [NOTE: We are wary of the term bulbel as these reproductive devices are neither bulbs — growing underground — or normal bulbels produced axiliarly at the joint of a leaf and a stem. Instead they are produced at the upper edge of a leaf as the baby plant emerges from water or mud and at a stage when this plant has no easily recognisable stem!] Most of the orchids found at this site are between the 200m and 210m contour and most are associated with large boulders where water collects before overflowing to the next backwater. Wherever the water slows down these bulbils will bed down and grow, as can be seen Below Right, where a huge number of small plants are developing from released buds. Bog Orchids are tiny plants. One of the biggest plants (RIGHT) grows to about 12 cm. The smaller recognisable plants, just originating from bulbils, can be visible at 5mm or less! They are, however, slightly yellower than most other plants and this can be a help — along with analytical awareness of their specific ‘birth-place’ requirements. Close up they look like orchids; from afar they closely resemble other bog plants. If you see 1 plant, look for the leaves and at the base of the stem and you will see bulbils developing; these are distinctive. If they are separate and discernable they may well be releasing reproductive material into the water — as can be further evidenced by a group of tine leaves emerging near or below the parent plant. The survival of this species in safe known locations is more or less guaranteed by this unique adaption to a life in an exposed wet habitat. Flowering is not required and in the West of Ireland these mountains can be cold and wet even in Summer. But this plant does flower and attracts pollinators and seeds can be seen in a good Autumns. As all orchids these seeds are incredibly tiny and are readily wind borne. This probably explains how these plants reach exposed mountain tops in the first place; their vegetative reproduction easily demonstrates a mechanism as to how they move to the lower slopes. However, we have searched the mountain top and not a single plant has been found. Perhaps high ground in this area is too exposed and plant and flower production only occurs in exceptional Summers. Whatever the cause, the best populations only exist in the lower slopes and, specifically, where the slopes become more gentle, the streams more braided, and the water slower moving to facilitate seed settlement. It is another interesting orchid — one which we look forward to studying every Summer — and one which we are often thwarted from studying by Autumnal storms. Not that we are lazy… just the plants shrivel up!
Now we come to one of Ireland’s later orchids. Three of these remain; first of all we will consider the Bog Orchid. We know this species from 3 locations. the Mourne Mountains, Dublin Mountains and the Ox Mountains in Sligo. The picture shown in this section are from the Ox Mountains. This is a tricky orchid to spot but it can be frequent in certain select areas. For example, in the photograph on the LEFT showing the slope up from the shore of Easkey Lough, the orchids seen over the last several years have been located half-way up the slope in among some of the bigger boulders. They typically are found between small rivulets around the 200m contour coming straight down the slope from higher water sources. As you can see from the map BELOW, there is a lake (small pond!) at the top of the mountain which could be the initial source of Bog Orchids from wind blown seed.

Irish Lady’s Tresses Spiranthes romanzoffiana

There is little need to write much about this species here. In Ireland we lead the way in recording, reporting and advocating for the protection of this Europe-wide rarity which just happens to occur in good numbers on our patch. At this time of year (July) these plants make us smile. The first one seen every year is still a thrill and, by and large, they are reliable and spring up when the weather is right. But they are vulnerable to damage and we must not forget this. Please contact us if you want to visit them.

Links to WildWest pages on Spiranthes romanzoffiana

2017: Spiranthes… curious plants. 2017: Spiranthes romanzoffiana — Coming from America? 2018: Spiranthes: Mayo Surveys. 2019: Spiranthes Log for 2019. We record them as we see them Also… do have a look at our former Site… SITE MAP This links to many other Spiranthes pages. is archived so for any enquiries relating to this link please contact us here at…
One of the early buds from beginning of July 2018. The emergence of these plants is variable depending on weather, flooding, temperature etc. They can emerge and flower within a few days!

Autumn Lady’s Tresses Spiranthes spiralis

Where and When!

We start with a group from a disused sandpit near Athlone. These photographs were taken many years ago on a dark overcast Autumn day. They are rather grainy images due to those conditions but, hopefully they will provide an impression of this delicate little flower. In Ireland this is an Autumn flowering plant often associated with closely cropped grassy shores or abandoned gravel pits with suitable areas of gently sloping fine sand and not too much grass. However it does appear sporad- ically in unexpected places — such as golf courses. It is often found in coastal areas such as Sherkin Island and Barley Cove in Cork. Also known from Dublin, Wexford, Kerry and the whole West Coast. We know it from just two sites, but it is a plant we would like to observe more closely — especially as some of our pictures are not as good as they could be. The habitat in Athlone was a large long- abandoned gravel works with deep diggings and broad steeply sloping roads where fine sediment was distributed. In Mayo this plant is common in grassy hummocks around the shore of Cross Lough in Belmullet — where the three lower  pictures were taken.

Where do they all come from?

Spiranthes spiralis has a totally different distribution — originating from the east. Ireland now appears to be the only place where these two orchids meet!  This little orchid is found in Ireland and Southern England (not in Scotland though), all along the Mediterranean area, as far as Iran and Russia and, more recently, in Nepal. It’s not so common in Central and Eastern Europe, but it is found in coastal regions of North Africa. It does NOT occur in America. Why is Ireland, the place where they both exist — at the margin of both their ranges? With widely dispersed colonies of plants within Ireland local seed production and germination is feasible. But, its late flowering season often means that flowers may wither or rot before they can release seed — as often happens with the bigger and stronger Irish Lady’s Tresses. Possible overseas sources of seed for the Irish stock exist in other coastal European and North Africa sites. e.g.  Spain, Portugal and especially France — where it is wide spread. Continental move-ment along the west coast of Europe would fit in with many Autumn wind patterns we see in the Biscay area. We have studied this plant little — there are no sites immediately adjacent to us. However, it seems reasonable to suspect that the main source of seed would be to the south of us, whereas with S. romanzoffiana the source is to the west. It would be a comparatively short journey from the European Continent and seeds could be rained down on any part of Ireland in large numbers.

This is the latest flowering Orchid in Ireland. We hope this guide is useful to

some and it, certainly, has opened our eyes to some of the amazing orchids

that we presently have in Ireland. Most seem secure. The Green-winged Orchid

is a concern as it was once common but now is very vulnerable to site loss.

Similarly the Fly Orchid whose complex reproductive system limits distribution.

S. romanzoffiana  is adaptable and well sustained.

Interesting Plants…

Two species of Spiranthes occur in Ireland. Spiranthes spiralis, Autumn Lady’s Tresses, is the smaller orchid. Like its close relative, Spiranthes romanzoffiana, it has a twisted structure to the flowerhead. The flowers themselves are somewhat similar, though much smaller than S. romanzoffiana.  It also produces overwintering lateral buds. But the global distribution of the 2 species is very different! S. spiralis  is a Palaearctic native and S. romanzoffiana is a Nearctic (North Amnerica) species with a small presence in Ireland and Scotland. The flower emerges in August from a dying cluster of leaves which apparently develop in the previous Autumn and remain until the next flowering season. Like their cousin S. roman zoffiana  they are heavily dependent on lateral buds to regenerate the species locally. The Autumn Lady’s Tresses therefor often occur in tight clusters wherever it is found. Thus the survival and propagation of the species locally can be independent of specific weather conditions (e.g. cold wet Summers when no seeds survive)! Fertilising agents can be Carder Bees, Bumblebees, and the Silver Y Moth. The plant is not self fertilising. The seemingly random occurrence of this species wherever suitable habitat exists is down to the vast number of seeds produced and the variable directions of wind regularly occurring over western Ireland. Seed can be either local or from overseas. Thus, it is readily available here much nearer than is the case with its American cousin. We have discussed the nature of seed dispersal by S. romanzoffiana elsewhere and the considerations explored there would almost certainly also apply to S. spiralis (Read MORE.)
Finally a panorama view of the wild North West Mayo coast from near the brackish lake where one group of these orchids was found. Hope you enjoyed our somewhat quirky tour of Irish Orchids with, hopefully, some fresh information and new insights… and not too many errors!
ABOVE: A close up of one of the Mayo specimens showing the dainty flowers and the tight curl around the stem some specimens have. Note also the fringe on the labellum akin to bulbils on Bog Orchid leaves? *
* An interesting summary of the biology and distribution of this species is available HERE with a full copy available on application. Wikepedia also have an outstanding article on the species… Spiranthes spiralis From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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Further Images of Early stage Vegetative


Far LEFT. Early stage Bog Orchids already starting to develop and release means of asexual propagation. The individual bulbils are clearly discernable and ripe for dispersing. The main accompanying plants in this image are liverworts, so this is a very wet site. LEFT. A stronger developing plant in a slightly drier habitat. This plant was developing a stem to lead to a flowering plant but, as can be seen from the image, this has been broken! Vegetation in this area was mosses and rushes.
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