In Britain you can only find the Loose-flowered orchid (Anacamptis laxiflora) in Jersey and Guernsey and once you’re there they are not hard to find. There is the wetlands centre on the west coast Le Noir Pre, known as The Orchid Fields, where there are several wet meadows and an estimate of 50,000 plants. There is another Jersey National Trust field across the island with another few thousand plants. The intense purple and the sheer numbers are impressive. One of these fields was used as a dump until 1960, which is possibly what saved it from being drained and ploughed up to grow Jersey Royal potatoes, like so many other fields. The Loose-flowered orchid was a common sight on the Channel Islands 100 years ago, found in all the wet places growing so densely it was impossible not to trample them. Now thanks to development, drainage and agriculture they are confined to these two sites.
The flower is similar to the Early purple, but the leaf is unspotted and the stem is elongated with flowers well spread out – that’s what’s meant by ‘loose flowered’. They are mostly around 25cm but can grow up to 50cm making a very imposing plant.
They are much more common further south and around the Mediterranean, but maybe climate change will persuade them further north and onto the UK mainland.
There were a few very pretty pale pink variants and some Southern marsh orchid, Heath spotted orchid and Common spotted orchids scattered in smaller numbers. The BSBI records show Lizard orchid nearby, but we didn’t find those.
The wetlands centre includes a large pond, reedbeds, the wet meadows and some areas of dune. It is a well known place to see Marsh harriers, which were there constantly soaring above our heads and diving into the reeds. The nearby Blanches banques SSSI has many rare plant species including the Lizard orchid and a good population of Nottingham catchfly as well as some interesting standing stones.