Thursday, 13 May 2010

Early-purple Orchid

The dark purple, almost blue, racemes of Early-purple Orchid (Orchis mascula) flowers can be visible from a distance. It flowers from April- June (early July in Scotland) and grows in a variety of habitats from grassland to deciduous woodland. The shape and colour of the flowers may be confused with Green-winged Orchids. However, the Early-purple Orchid has large dark spots on the leaves and the Green-winged Orchid's leaves are unspotted. Green-winged Orchid also has parallel green veins on the side petals of the flowers.

Early-purple Orchid is considered an Ancient Woodland Indicator. This means that it is characteristic of the vegetation community found in ancient woodlands. In the picture above the Early-purple Orchids are growing with Wood Anemone, Perennial Dog's-mercury and Bluebells; all classic Ancient Woodland Indicators in Britain. This community of plants tells you about the long history of woodland growing in that location. I saw these orchids in Garston Wood, a nature reserve that has been maintained by regular coppicing. The ancient woodland habitat supports a high level of biodiversity; 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity see for further information.

Early-purple Orchids are referenced in Shakespeare's Hamlet. I think a more interesting association between people and plants in this case is that Early-purples used to be consumed as a drink called Salep in Britain. Salep is still made in Turkey. While Early-purple Orchids can be common in some areas of Britain they do not grow in enough abundance to justify using them to make a drink. If someone was to start cultivating them as a commercial crop, int he way Vanilla the more familiar orchid we eat is cultivated, it would be a magnificent sight.

1 comment:

Lee said...

To myself it's unusual to see a photograph of the early purple orchid in woodland; I've only ever seen it growing on limestone grassland in the Peak District.