Noar Hill in Hampshire is an amazing wildflower site. It is the site of a medieval chalk workings and is 20 hectares of mixed woodland and grassland on hillocks and hollows. As I entered the site the first orchid to be seen was the Common spotted (Dactylorhiza fuchsii), as it often is, tolerating the part shade and long grass under the trees. I moved on and the next was Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis), there are masses of these all over the grassy mounds along with a lot more Common spotted and Common twayblade (Neottia ovata). These 3 orchids were everywhere I looked and there must be many thousands on the site.
The next one I saw was the Fragrant orchid, sometimes called Chalk fragrant (Gymnadenia conopsea). It is found on calcareous soils but not always chalk and the scent is like vanilla and cloves. when it’s strong and on a still day you can detect it from standing, but usually I have to get down to their level to catch the fragrance.
There were still two small, green elusive orchids that I was hoping to find. I started to follow little trodden paths, which seemed to go nowhere, thinking that someone went there before me and maybe they found something interesting. This method often works and soon I found my first group of Musk orchids ( Herminium monorchis) .
They are pale yellowish green, only about 10cm tall and are fairly hard to spot amongst the grass. They only grow in the shortest grass and on this site they grow in their 1000s. They spread by seed but also by rhizome, so they form clumps and colonies quite readily and where you find one, you will find several.
I sat down on a chalky bank to photograph another group of the Musk orchids and when I got down low with my camera I suddenly spotted my first Frog orchid (Dactylorhiza viridis). There were two of them, even shorter than the Musk, but chunkier with the characteristic dark reddish hood to the flowers. they are members of the marsh orchid genus but look nothing like them. It does sometimes hybridise with Common spotted and other ‘Dacts’ showing that they are indeed close cousins.
Seeing the frog in the flower shape is a bit of a stretch of imagination, but maybe the lip could be the back legs stretched out while hopping.
I only found two frog orchids, but as I wandered further I saw many more Musk orchids, seed pods of the Early purple, a Bee orchid with the top broken off and my bonus plant for the day was a few Clustered bellflowers, which I have never seen before.
I haven’t even mentioned the butterflies. Noar Hill is famously a site for the rare Duke of Burgundy (which I didn’t see, I think it’s the wrong time of year) but I did see a lot of butterflies including skippers and marbled whites. But for me it was an 8-orchid day, and that is a good day.