Orchids are characterised by irregular (zygomorphic) flowers, with a characteristic central column containing the female stigma and the pollen usually contained in two (often stalked) sticky masses called pollinia

Choose by flower colour:


White flowers

Pink-red-purple flowers

Greenish-yellow flowers

Mixed colour flowers


Anacamptis laxiflora . . . . Loose-flowered (Jersey) Orchid

Locally common in marshy meadows in Jersey and Guernsey

Anacamptis morio . . . . Green-winged Orchid

Widespread but decreasing in grassland in CI En and Ire

Anacamptis pyramidalis . . . . Pyramidal Orchid

Locally frequent in chalk grassland in the S

Cephalanthera . . . . . Helleborines

Cephalanthera longifolia . . . . Narrow-leaved or Sword-leaved Helleborine, Sword-leaved Helleborine

Local in Woods on calcareous soils

Other Helleborines include: C. damasonium (White Helleborine - similar with broader leaves)

Also C. rubra (Red Helleborine - v. rare in S En)

Coeloglossum . . . . . Frog Orchid

Coeloglossum viride . . . . Frog Orchid

Native in calcareous grassland, esp. N and W. and Hampshire

Corallorhiza . . . . . Coral-root Orchid

Corallorhiza trifida . . . . Coral-root Orchid

Saprophytic without leaves; damp peaty or mossy areas in N br

Cypripedium . . . . . Lady's-slipper

Cypripedium calceolus . . . . Lady's-slipper (Orchid)

Characteristic flowers - very rare on limestone but replanted on a few sites in N En (e.g. Gait Barrows)

Very rare - some replanting has been done in Gait Barrows

Dactylorhiza . . . . . Spotted-orchids

Note that Dactylorhiza spp. are very variable in colour, markings and shape with many hybrids - these are just the main representative types - note especially the size/shape of the middle lobe of labellum

Select from the following:

D. fuchsii
D. incarnata
D. maculata
D. praetermissa
D. purpurella

Also many hybrids such as:
D. maculata x D. purpurella (D. x formosa)
D. fuchsii x D. purpurella (=D. x venusta)

Dactylorhiza fuchsii . . . . Common Spotted-orchid

Central lobe of labellum longer than side ones, pale pink flower with darker spots, etc.; broad splodges on lvs

Dactylorhiza incarnata . . . . Early Marsh-orchid

Lower side petals folded back; leaves are unspotted, held upright, with cupped tips; throughout BI

Dactylorhiza incarnata ssp. pulchella . . . . Early Marsh-orchid

Dactylorhiza maculata . . . . Heath Spotted-orchid

Small central lobe of lower petal, narrow leaves with small spots (cf broad blodges for D. fuchsii)

Dactylorhiza praetermissa . . . . Southern Marsh-orchid

Lip more triangular than 3-lobed

Dactylorhiza purpurella . . . . Northern Marsh-orchid

Has flat lower petal (c.f. early marsh orchid); N & W of Br and NI

Epipactis . . . . . Helleborines

Epipactis atrorubens . . . . Dark-red Helleborine

Locally frequent in scrub on limestone in N Br and Ire

Epipactis dunensis . . . . Dune Helleborine

Local, esp. N. Wa and N En; differs from E. leptochila as lower petal tip as wide as long (not longer), often recurved

E. sancta (Lindisfarne Helleborine) which lacks purple tinge and only occurs on Lindisfarne is sometimes included in this sp.

Epipactis helleborine . . . . Broad-leaved Helleborine

Frequent in Br and Ire except N Sc

Epipactis palustris . . . . Marsh Helleborine

Locally frequent in base-rich fens

A number of other Epipactis spp. include: E. leptochila (Narrow-lipped Helleborine), E. purpurata (Violet Helleborine) and E. phyllanthes (Green-flowered Helleborine)

Goodyera . . . . . Creeping Lady's-tresses

Goodyera repens . . . Creeping Lady's-tresses

Native in Pine or Birch woodland in Sc and N En

Gymnadenia . . . . . Fragrant orchids

The three currently recognised UK spp. (G. borealis (Heath Fragrant-orchid), G. conopsea (Chalk Fragrant-orchid) and G. densiflora (Marsh Fragrant-orchid)) merge into each other and are hard to separate, largely depending on precise measurements; can possibly be treated as subspp. of G. conopsea

Gymnadenia borealis . . . . Heath Fragrant-orchid

Bottom petal hardly lobed, lateral sepals broadly oval and pointed, mostly in Sc and N En; has the smallest fls

Gymnadenia conopsea . . . . Chalk Fragrant-orchid

The commonest and most widespread; largely intermediate in size; lateral sepals narrow and drooping

Gymnadenia densiflora . . . . Marsh Fragrant-orchid

Rounded bottom petal broader than long, lateral sepals linear; scattered in Ire and Br N to Westmoreland

Hammarbya . . . . . Bog Orchids

Hammarbya paludosa . . . . Bog Orchid

Very hard to find; Rather rare except in C/W Scotland

Another small greeny-yellow orchid is Fen Orchid (Liparis loeselii: local esp. in S Wa and E Anglia)

Herminium . . . . . Musk Orchid

Herminium monorchis . . . . Musk Orchid

Very local on chalk/limestone in S En

Himantoglossum . . . . . Lizard Orchid

Himantoglossum hircinum . . . . Lizard Orchid

Very local in CI and S En


Neottia cordata . . . Lesser-twayblade

Upland woods and moors esp. in Sc often under heather or in damp places nearer the sea

Neottia ovata . . . . Twayblade


Neottia nidus-avis . . . . Bird's-nest Orchid

A saprophyte (no chlorophyll for photosynthesis) in shady woods throughout Br and Ire


Neotinea maculata . . . . Dense-flowered Orchid

Local in W Ire

Neotinea ustulata . . . . Burnt-tip Orchid

Very local on chalk grassland in SE En


Ophrys apifera . . . . Bee Orchid

Locally frequent on calcareous soils N to N En

Several variants occur, including this "Wasp Orchid"

Ophrys insectifera . . . . Fly Orchid

Local on calcareous soils N to N En

Ophrys sphegoides . . . . Early Spider-orchid

Very local on chalk in S and Jersey

See also the rare Late Spider-orchid (O. fuciflora) of chalk in Kent


Orchis anthropophora . . . . Man Orchid

Local on Chalk and limestone, esp. in SE

Orchis mascula . . . . Early-purple Orchid

Frequent throughout Br and Ire

NB flowers earlier than other orchids - usually distinguished from A. laxiflora by generally spotted leaves (and by where it grows)

Orchis pupurea . . . Lady Orchid

Local on chalk - almost entirely restricted to the N Downs in Kent; a rather tall robust orchid

Orchis simia . . . . . Monkey Orchid

Rare on Chalk in E. Kent and Oxon

Orchis x angusticruris . . . . hybrid of Monkey and Lady Orchids

Rare on Chalk, Oxon

Related is the Military Orchid (O. militaris) which is rare in C S En


Platanthera bifolia . . . . Lesser Butterfly-orchid

The clearest difference is the parallel pollinia in P. bifolia c.f. the diverging pollinia in P.chlorantha
Up to 45 cm tall; Spur tends to be only slightly curved, slender and horizontal

Platanthera chlorantha . . . . Greater Butterfly-orchid

Much the commoner sp. in S Br, Locally frequent in woods and meadows; Up to 60 cm; Spur strongly curved down

Note the different arrangement of the pollinia; P. chlorantha also tends to be whiter


Pseudorchis albida . . . . Small-white Orchid

Mostly restricted to short upland grassland in Sc

Somewhat similar is Dense-flowered Orchid (Neotinea maculata)


Serapias parviflora . . . . Tongue Orchid

Rare in BI


Spiranthes spiralis . . . . Autumn Lady's-tresses

Locally frequent in short (esp. seaside) grassland CI and S Br

Irish Lady's-tresses S. romanzoffiana is a similar, but v. rare plant of NW Sc & Ire