Early purples – a woodland or a meadow plant?

Early purple orchid

Early purple orchid (Orchis mascula) is the first orchid to flower in my home county, Herefordshire. I live at the edge of the Woolhope Dome, which is a calcareous bump in the red clay of the county and I am lucky to have some lovely reserves and orchid sites nearby.

On a Sunday evening in late April I went out to see what I could find. Lea and Pagets Wood had dozens in flower alongside wood anemone and bluebells just starting to open.

Early purple orchid

Then I went up to one of the small wildflower meadows on the Woolhope Dome and there they were in amongst a mass of cowslips.
Sometimes they have spotted leaves and sometimes plain green. When they are growing in a meadow they are easily confused with the Green Winged Orchid, especially if it is a plain leaved plant, and you need to look closely at the petals to see which it is.

Early purple orchids