Friday, 4 September 2009

Early Marsh Orchid

Early Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza incarnata)

The Early Marsh Orchid is very widely spread across Britain though it does not occur in abundance and has been lost from many areas. There are five subspecies of Early Marsh Orchid which have different coloured flowers and occur in different habitats.

Dactylorhiza incarnata subspecies incarnata is found in alkaline fens and marshy meadows. Its flowers are a unique shade of flesh or salmon pink unlike that of any of the other orchids found in Britain. The only other flower in Britain I can think of which is almost this colour is Tall Ramping-Fumitory which has pinnate leaves and could not be mistaken for an orchid. So perhaps D.i. subspecies incarnata is one of the few flowers that could be identified here by its colour alone. The flower spikes are often satisfyingly chunky, though sometimes it grows in leaner spikes.

Last year I found D. i. subspecies incarnata in a dune slack at Formby Point, Lancashire. Dunes might not be the first place you think of as alkaline or marshy. Chalk is a very ancient deposit of shells. Calcareous shell debris can collect on dunes and in the hollow between dunes - i.e. the Dune slack – which can be damp enough to support plants that require a damp habitat if part of the hollow falls below the water table.

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