Home   BSBI   eXtreme botany on the edge: roadside orchids!

eXtreme botany on the edge: roadside orchids!

Dr M asks: What’s not to love about orchids?  I mean it’s a botanical given, orchids – everyone loves them! OK, Dr M might prefer Poaceae but that’s Dr M for you!

And what fun is the psychology of people and orchids! For some reason there is a marked tendency to think orchids are fragile, rare and threatened, end of!

Mention an orchid, see an orchid, tread on an orchid and, perish the thought, pick or mow an orchid, and reverential, hushed tones ensue.

Well of course for sure some orchids ARE rare, exceedingly rare, vanishingly rare even. For example, Lady’s Slipper, Fen, Ghost, Lizard, Military, Late Spider, Monkey and Red Helleborine. All rare and protected in England (Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981).

But some orchids are relatively common and, rather than declining, populations are stable with any losses balanced by gains from plants colonising quarries, roadsides and other post-industrial sites.

Bee Orchids (Ophrys apifera) are a case in point, as are Common Spotted Orchids (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) and Pyramidal Orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis), all familiar and quite common species and appearing in new sites quite regularly, their minuscule seeds providing ample means for long distance dispersal.

Road verges can be a good, conspicuous places to spot common orchids, for those town and motorway bound, you just need to keep your eyes open.

And so just recently, Dr M noticed a splendid bank of Pyramidal Orchids beside the slip road to a busy dual carriageway near Hemel Hempstead.

In tip-top condition they were, at their peak of form and beauty. So, with you in mind, Dr M pulled over (safely!) and, camera in hand, scaled the roadside bank and captured them for your delight and (hushed) delectation!


Botanical notes: Anacamptis pyramidalis (Pyramidal Orchid) – a tuberous perennial herb leaves grey-green, lanceolate and pointed, without spots, forming a basal rosette and also on the stem. Flowers in a dense, usually dome-shaped to conical spike and a rich pink-red with an odour of fox about them (how about Chanel Eau de Vulpes – a botanical and perfumoid marketing opportunity if ever there was one?!).

Grows in well-drained calcareous soils in shortly grazed downland, dune-slacks and on cliff-tops, and also in the longer grass of semi-stable dunes, scrub, roadside verges and churchyards. It also grows in the grikes of limestone pavement, and can colonise the disturbed ground of abandoned quarries, industrial waste land and railway embankments.

Dr M says: Find the BSBI distribution map for Pyramidal Orchid here.

And check out Dr M’s short video of said wondrous Orchidaceous roadside display…





  • Alison Bird

    Is that an ambulance that has stopped to see if you need its services?

  • Lesley

    I agree what is the extreme fascination with orchids!?! I was recently working on a reservoir which is the only site in Sussex for rough marsh mallow and all the workmen were more impressed by the pyramidal and bee orchids. I just don’t get it 🙂

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