EXOTIC and striking in appearance, orchids can be found in a diverse range of habitats and now is the perfect time to discover them.
n Early purple orchid, as its name suggests, is one of the first of our native orchids to bloom.
Flowering at a similar time to bluebells, between early April and late May, it is strong enough to grow in the light shade of woodland or out in the open grassland of a road verge.
It remains relatively common but has declined in recent decades due to urban development and modern farming methods.
When the flowers first open they have a sweet scent like honey. Once pollinated the flowers smell like the urine of a tomcat!
It is thought this may be to warn insects that the flower is no longer worth pollinating.
n The pyramidal orchid is the county flower of the Isle of Wight.
This orchid is easy to identify from the bright pink, pyramid-shaped cluster of flowers on top of the stem.
The pyramidal orchid, which flowers between June and August, sports a long spur containing nectar to entice moths to drink.
It can be spotted in unlikely places such as roadsides in Fareham.
n The bee orchid is a master of mimicry and has evolved to look like its main pollinator – the longhorn bee. Bizarrely, this bee is rarely found in the UK so the bee orchids found here appear to be self-pollinated – the plant’s male pollen sacs drop onto the female stigma allowing self-pollination to take place.
Its windborne seed germinates freely allowing rapid colonisation of small patches of bare ground.
This ability means that short-lived populations turn up in unlikely places such as on the edge of car parks.
The bee orchid is however at its best in parched sunny habitats and can be abundant where the ground has been disturbed, such as Farlington Marshes
n Common spotted orchids are the most common of all UK orchids.
This species grows in many habitats including woodland, roadside verges, hedgerows, old quarries, sand dunes and marshes.
Its green leaves have purplish oval spots and form a rosette at ground level before the flower spike appears.
Its flowers, which appear from late May, range from white and pale pink through to purple and have distinctive darker pink spots and stripes on their three-lobed lips.
More than 20,000 common spotted orchids were recently found at the Wildlife Trust’s Coulter’s Dean nature reserve near Petersfield.
When admiring orchids please remember the immature plants that may surround the flowering spike.
Avoid trampling future flowers by keeping to the paths and checking where you put your feet.