How to identify orchids

Our guide to these intricate little blooms includes 10 species to look out for and their key identifying features. June tends to be the best month for spotting orchids, but don't let this put you off - some species flower earlier or later!


All illustrations by Christina Hart Davis


1. Burnt orchid Orchis ustulata (Above)

Short: up to 20cm. Flowers maroon, then pale pink as they open. Local on short chalk and limestone grassland.


2. Common spotted orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii 

Flowers deep pink to white, with varying spots and streaks; leaves spotted. Many open habitats.


3. Heath spotted orchid Dactylorhiza maculata

Flowers variable, but often paler pink than common spotted orchid; leaves spotted. Damp, acid or neutral soils.


4. Southern marsh orchid Dactylorhiza praetermissa

Up to 70cm tall, with rich pink-purple flowers; leaves plain. Local in south in marshes and damp grassland.


5. Lesser butterfly orchid Platanthera bifolia

Green-white flowers with long spurs. Local in north and west on upland heaths and unimproved grassland.


6. Lizard orchid Himantoglossum hircinum

Flowers have a ‘lizard’ tail and goaty smell. Rare, mostly in south, on chalk and limestone grassland and dunes.


7. Lesser twayblade orchid Listera cordata

Small; often hidden by heather. Red-brown flowers; single pair of leaves. Local on wet, mossy heaths and bogs.


8. Man orchid Orchis anthropophora

Human-like flower has lobed yellow or red lips. Local on short grassland and downs, mostly in south-east England.


9. Fly orchid Ophrys insectifera

Unmistakable. Local, mainly in south. Scrubby grassland and woods on limy soils; also in chalkpits and quarries.


10. Bee orchid Ophrys apifera


Unmistakable. Short turf in limestone areas; also quarries and verges. Rare or absent in north and west.