Finding wild orchids in Shropshire

Orchids have long held a mystique, but have recently become a staple house plant in garden centres and supermarkets.

Shropshire’s nature reserves and wild places are full of orchids – many even more beautiful than the supermarket moth orchids. You just need to look in the right place at the right time.

Orchids cannot compete with rank vegetation so you need to look where nutrient levels are low.  Limestone soils are thin and often productive for the orchid hunter.

Fragrant orchid - Sweeney Fen

Fragrant orchid - Sweeney Fen (c) Robin Jukes-Hughes

Fragrant orchids

These truly live up to their name, particularly at Sweeney Fen nature reserve.  Just a couple of acres in size, it has thousands of flower spikes that scent the air on a warm July day.  Mixed in with them are Marsh Helleborines for good measure.

Stop press

We are holding a special members only guided tour of Sweeney Fen on Saturday 6 July and you’ll be treated to refreshment at neighbouring Treflach Farm, which produces great free range and permaculture food. To find out more about this event, click here. 

Marsh Helleborine Orchid

Marsh Helleborine (c) Les Binns

Greater butterfly orchids and autumn ladies tresses

Not far from Sweeney Fen is Llanymynech rocks – the huge cliff face visible from the Welshpool to Oswestry road.  Amongst the quarry spoil grow white flowered butterfly orchids in June and July.

In September you can find autumn ladies tresses.  The short spikes have white flowers that spiral around.  They’re difficult to spot, but well worth the effort.

Llanymynech Rocks Shropshire limestone butterflies orchids

Llanymynech Rocks - Bee Orchid (photo. Celia Todd)

Bee orchid

This mimic uses its sexy scent and appearance to trick bumble bees into trying to mate with it.  As the hapless bee attempts to copulate the flower attaches pollen that the bee will transfer onto the next flower it visits.

The pheromones released by the flower precisely match those of the bee species it wants to attract.  Evolution at its most ingenious.

The sandy banks of Wood Lane support hundreds of bee orchids in July.

Southern marsh orchid

Southern marsh orchid (c) Philip Precey

Southern marsh orchid

Vivid blooms of fuchsia or even magenta shout out from the grasses and herbs of Farfields hay meadows. 

These tall (up to 50cm) robust flowers generally have leaves without spots, but beware they form hybrids with common spotted orchids so some do have spots just to confuse you!