Lizards in the sand dunes

Lizard orchid

The lizard orchid is my new favourite plant. It is monstrous and stinking. I made the journey down to Sandwich Bay, Kent, where there are 1000s to be found on the dunes, the roadside, front lawns of bungalows and the golf course. This population was closely guarded in the 70’s and 80’s but the species is thriving here and starting to appear in other parts of the South of England.  It’s our biggest native orchid, standing between 30cm and 90cm tall, covered in wild grey-green mass of lizard tails, which are the elongated lip petals. The lip twists and curls and shrivels quite fast in the hot sun, making the plant look half dead, though the rest of the flower is prime condition. The front end of the lizard has dived inside the flower and a pair of back legs dangle down from it.

Lizard orchid

It smells of goat, it is a foul smelling plant. In Kent it is known as the Goat orchid or Great Goat-stones, describing the underground tubers.
There were many Pyramidal orchids on the roadside. On cliffs and dunes it is always the orchid closest to the sea, in the last band of tough plants before the cliff edge or the beach shingle. It is one of our most photogenic orchids, always a clear, bright pink with no markings except a paler pink or white centre to each flower. In this picture it is beautifully arranged with Restharrow and Sea holly.

Pyramidal orchid

It is very widespread, often occurs in large numbers and is equally at home inland and a welcome sight on roadside verges. There are lots in flower now beside the A419 near Gloucester, where the traffic always slows and I can get a good look at them.