Small white orchid

Small white orchid

The Small white orchid is scarce in the UK. Pseudorchis albida is found in Scotland, Northern England and Ireland. It is extinct in Southern England and one small isolated colony is hanging on in Wales – which is close enough for a day trip.

It’s less than 20cm tall, the flowers are 2-4mm across. The sepals are cream coloured and the petals and lip are yellowish green. It is usually found on acid soil in the uplands. It flowers late May – June and is difficult to spot.

Sites have declined drastically since 1970s. A lot of heathland has been lost in that time to drainage, forestry, agriculture and development and climate change will be adding further pressure in the more southerly sites. It may soon be restricted to Scotland and Ireland. it became extinct in my home county of Herefordshire in the 19th century. It has Schedule 8 protection in N Ireland but is only classified as Vulnerable in the rest of the UK. It is surely a candidate for greater protection.

Heath fragrant orchids

The Small white site in Wales also has a large number of Heath Fragrant orchids. There are several ways to tell the 3 fragrant species apart, though I still don’t feel confident about them. Heath fragrant is the shortest, up to 30cm. The flower spike is short and densely packed. the difference in habitat is fairly clear. The shape of the lip is subtle. The difference in scent is beyond me completely. Usually the habitat would be reliable. Acid heathland – Heath. Dry chalk and limestone grassland – Chalk. Damp meadows and fens – Marsh. However in Herefordshire our most well known fragrant site is a wet calcareous grassland/ fen and the species there is Chalk. They have their roots in water, what can I say?

Heath spotted orchid

It was good to see a huge population of Wood bitter vetch Vicia orobus on this reserve. It’s hanging on at 2 sites in Herefordshire and is in steep decline in the UK. There are now efforts being made to bring it back from the brink my home county and Plantlife is working on it in other parts of the UK.

Wood bitter vetch