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A single white-purple lady orchid flower spike on a blurred background

The Lady Orchid is a tall, elegant herbaceous plant belonging to the Orchidaceae plant family.

How to spot it

Lady Orchid can reach 30–100 centimetres with the fleshy, bright green leaves being up to 15 cm long. The leaves are broad and oblong, forming a rosette about the base of the plant and surrounding the flower spike. These flower spikes can contain up to 200 individual flowers to which the stem upwardly points. Some of the flowers have the look of women in crinoline ball gowns. In terms of colour they are usually pale pink or rose, with a deeper purple ‘head’.

Close-up of bright pink-purple lady orchid flowers

Where to spot it

The Lady Orchid can be found in most parts of Europe (specifically Kent, England), Northern Africa, Turkey and the Caucasus.

Lady orchids usually grow in woodlands, oak forests, slopes and meadows, and can occasionally occur on savanna. They prefer to grow in limestone or chalk soil, in shady or sunny places. The Lady Orchid occurs in short grassland, on woodland edges and sometimes in open woodland. However, it is now very rarely found in the UK.

Best time to spot it

Lady Orchid’s flowering occurs in late April to June.

Did you know?

The sepals and upper petals are known to be purple, hence the Lady Orchid adopting the latin name purpurea.

Other Species

Sweet Violet

Sweet Violet

Viola odorata

Marsh-marigold
Ten bright yellow Marsh-marigold flowers

Marsh-marigold

Caltha palustris

Read Dead-nettle

Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum

Scottish Primrose

Primula scotica

A Scottish Primrose with three bright pink flower heads amongst grass

The ultimate northerner in our flora, Scottish Primrose grows on coastal promontories on the north coast of Scotland, including Dunnet Head, the northernmost tip of mainland Britain.

Close up of pink Scottish Primrose with three flowers

Where to spot it

Scottish Primrose is low-growing and easily overlooked. It typically grows in heaths and coastal grasslands. As well as growing in the north coast of Scotland, this attractive flower also grows in Orkney, across the Pentland Firth, but nowhere else in the world. It is easily distinguished from the common primrose by its blueish-purple petals.

Best time to spot it

Scottish Primrose flowers from May to June.

Did you know?

Scottish Primrose is the county flower of Caithness.

Other Species

Sweet Violet

Sweet Violet

Viola odorata

Marsh-marigold
Ten bright yellow Marsh-marigold flowers

Marsh-marigold

Caltha palustris

Read Dead-nettle

Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum

Twinflower

Linnaea borealis

Single twinflower on blurred background of foliage

The beautiful Twinflower has two pink bell-like flowers on a slender stem, and a thicker stem below which creeps along the ground, forming small mats of the plant. It is one of our smallest and most delicate native flowers.

Did you know?

Twinflower is the County Flower of Inverness-shire.

Several twinflowers amongst leaves

Where to spot it

Twinflower is confined to Scotland. It grows mainly in the native, open, pine woods, particularly in the Cairngorms, and is an Arctic-Alpine plant that is a relic of the Ice Age.

How did it get there?

The clearance of native woodlands before the 1930s resulted in severe losses of this little flower. Continued habitat destruction and changes in woodland management have now reduced this plant to a handful of about 50 unrelated sites.

One of the two heads of a twinflower in bloom and in focus, with the other remaining closed

What are Twinflower’s key threats?

The isolation of the remaining sites of Twinflower leads to poor seed production and thus contributes to its continued decline. Other threats are overgrazing by deer or sheep, mechanical harvesting of timber, and the deliberate thickening of forests leading to excess shade.

What we’re doing about it

One of Plantlife’s most exciting projects has been research into how the historical management of ancient pine plantation may have benefited Twinflower. A study of how timber was grown and extracted in the 18th and 19th centuries has led to a proposal to test whether these methods could boost Twinflower populations today.

Other Species

Sweet Violet

Sweet Violet

Viola odorata

Marsh-marigold
Ten bright yellow Marsh-marigold flowers

Marsh-marigold

Caltha palustris

Read Dead-nettle

Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum

Butterbur

Petasites hybridus

Butterbur on background of rocks and dirt

Fond of moist ground, Butterbur is a pink, tassled wildflower can often be found carpeting riversides and damp ditches.

With so many small flowers packed densely together, Butterbur is very popular with bees. It is a great source of nectar early in the year, when wildflowers are still rather sparse.

How to spot it

Flower spikes appear before the leaves and have tiny pale pink flowers arranged down stems which are 10-40cm tall. The leaves are very large, sometimes almost 1 meter wide and are downy-grey underneath.

Bright pink-purple Butterbur in focus on blurred background

Where to spot it

Butterbur is found throughout the UK, but is rarer in central and northern Scotland. It inhabits wet meadows, streamsides, roadside ditches and copses.

Best time to spot it

The best time to see Butterbur is in spring, throughout March, April and May.

Things you might not know

  • Butterbur’s common name derives from its large, heart-shaped leaves that were used to wrap butter in the past.
  • Its scientific name is derived from the Greek petasos, meaning a ‘broad-brimmed felt hat’ which also refers to the enormous leaves.
  • Butterbur spreads by rhizomes and large colonies of male or female plants are common.

Other Species

Sweet Violet

Sweet Violet

Viola odorata

Marsh-marigold
Ten bright yellow Marsh-marigold flowers

Marsh-marigold

Caltha palustris

Read Dead-nettle

Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum

Stinking Hellebore

Helleborus foetidus

Mostly green Stinking Hellebore flowers with pink-purple lining visible on the sepals

The green flowers of the Stinking Hellebore can be a pleasant surprise amidst a dusting of snow.

You might think Stinking Hellebore is a garden escapee, but this is not the case! Although populations may have become obscured by such varieties, the Stinking Hellebore is a native through and through.

Scientific illustration of the Stinking Hellebore with detail on flowers and leaves, as well as faint, illegible measurements

How to spot it

Stinking Hellebore is evergreen. It has dark green leaves sprouting from a thick stem. The flowers are green also but a lighter, yellowish shade, and they are a drooping cup-like shape. The five sepals have a distinctive purple fringe.

Given the popularity of this plant in gardens it is often hard to distinguish the native population from horticultural escapees.

Where to spot it

Stinking Hellebore can be found in woodland, walls and roadside verges. It is particularly fond of limestone-based soils.

Best time to see

Stinking Hellebore traditionally blooms between February and April.

Things you might not know

  • Be cautious: every part of this wild flower is poisonous and will induce vomiting and delirium if ingested, if not death.
  • In the past, Stinking Hellebore was used as a hazardous remedy for worms. The 18th century naturalist Gilbert White said this about this “cure”: “Where it killed not the patient, it would certainly kill the worms; but the worst of it is, it will sometimes kill both”.
  • The name “Stinking” Hellebore could be considered undeserved. Sniffing the flowers won’t make you want to hold your nose, although crushing the leaves can produce an odour often described as “beefy”.

Other Species

Sweet Violet

Sweet Violet

Viola odorata

Marsh-marigold
Ten bright yellow Marsh-marigold flowers

Marsh-marigold

Caltha palustris

Read Dead-nettle

Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum

Smoky Spindles

Clavaria fumosa 

Smoky Spindles

What to look for?

  • Smoky spindles have simple, unbranched tapered clubs, often formed into a cluster among the grass – or they can be growing singly. They are very brittle and can snap easily.
  • Their colour ranges from greyish brown to pinkish brown to pale-ochre brown. Their tips go darker with age and their spores are white.
  • They are often somewhat laterally flattened – sometimes straight, but more often wavy with bluntly pointed or rounded tips.
  • The individual stems are typically 2-12cm tall and 3-10mm in diameter.

Where to find them?

They are generally found in unimproved grassland (favouring acid or neutral grassland) and in leaf litter on woodland edges and clearings.  In the summer and autumn, they can be found on road verges, in cropped grassland and in churchyards.

After years of low-nutrient management, they can also appear on lawns.

Don’t mistake it with…

  • Clavaria fragilis is similar but has white spindly fruitbodies.
  • Clavulinopsis fusiformis has a similar form but is golden yellow. 

Other Species

Read Dead-nettle

Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum

Tree Lungwort
Tree Lungwort spanning entire branch of ancient tree

Tree Lungwort

Lobaria pulmonaria

Reindeer Moss
Small patch of jagged, white Reindeer Moss amongst bright green plants

Reindeer Moss

Cladonia rangiferina

Meadow Waxcap

Hygrocybe pratensis

Months

Season

Habitat

Apricot mushroom with flat top

How to identify:

CapApricot, slightly pitted and with powdery bloom sometimes visible with a hand lens, fading to buff with age. Convex, becoming flattened or slightly concave. 
Cap Diameter2.5 – 10 cm 
GillsPale whitish apricot 
StemsWhitish apricot, tapering to the base. 
FleshWhitish apricot 
SporesWhite

 

 

Where to find them?

Meadow Waxcaps (Hygrocybe pratensis) are a common find on cropped grassland and upland pastures. It appears from late August until December. Particularly in upland areas on acidic soil, the Meadow Waxcap is one of the few waxcap species that can tolerate small amounts of fertiliser being applied to its grassland habitat.

Did you know?

Two varieties of the Meadow Waxcap occur in BritainOne is apricot and the other is paler and almost white. It is a conspicuous and robust waxcap often persisting for several weeks. 

Don’t mistake it with…

Pink Ballerina

Other Species

Read Dead-nettle

Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum

Tree Lungwort
Tree Lungwort spanning entire branch of ancient tree

Tree Lungwort

Lobaria pulmonaria

Reindeer Moss
Small patch of jagged, white Reindeer Moss amongst bright green plants

Reindeer Moss

Cladonia rangiferina

Pink Ballerina Waxcap

Porpolomopsis calytriformis 

Months

Season

Colour

Habitat

Pink waxcap fungi growing in short green lawn

How to identify:

CapPale pink, fading with age. Conical at first then spreading and splitting. 
Cap Diameter2 – 7 cm across 
Gills Pale pink when young, becoming paler 
StemsWhite
FleshN/A
SporesWhite

 

 

Where to find them?

The Pink Ballerina Waxcap (Porpolomopsis calytriformis) is uncommon and localised in Britain and Ireland.

Due to favouring unimproved acid or neutral grassland it is more often seen in western Britain and particularly in Wales, sometimes in churchyards but more often on sheep-grazed acid grassland in the hills. 

Did you know?

Commonly referred to as the Ballerina Waxcap, because of the way the pink cap flares out and splits like a tutu or pirouetting dancer.  

The Ballerina Waxcap is on the The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (ICNU) Red List. At present it is a decreasing species and listed as vulnerable.

Don’t mistake it with…

The Meadow Waxcap.

 

Other Species

Read Dead-nettle

Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum

Yew
Six red Yew berries alongside two younger green berries

Yew

Taxus baccata

String-of-sausages Lichen

String-of-sausages Lichen

Rosebay Willowherb

Chamerion angustifolium

Months

Colour

Habitat

A striking wild plant with tall spires of large pink flowers and leaves that grow like a staircase around the stem. Its leaves resemble those of the willow species, hence the name.

Rosebay willowherb is a fine example of a ‘pioneer species’ – the first plants to colonise a barren area with very little competition (such as the sites of forest fires). For this reason it was a familiar sight following the London Blitz (see below).

Distribution

Common throughout England, Wales and south-east Scotland. Rarer in Ireland.

Habitat

As a pioneer plant, Rosebay Willowherb thrives on waste ground. Keep an eye out for it when travelling by car or train. It likes to grow in dry, relatively open areas. It can typically be found in forest clearings, beside tracks and trails, on recently disturbed ground and on well-drained banks of rivers. Since it can colonise disturbed sites, even following an oil spill, it is often used to re-establish vegetation.

Best time to see

Late summer, when it flowers: July-September.

Did you know…

  • Commonly known as Fireweed in North America, it often appears after forest fires and other events which leave the earth scorched. This tendency also gave rise to the name Bombweed in the UK. London has indelible memories of the drifts of this flower in the bomb sites of the second world war.
  • As a pioneer plant it was one of the first to colonise the scarred earth, and its vivid spires were synonymous with London’s revival. As such, it was a popular choice as the County Flower of our capital. Today it mingles with buddleias and Michaelmas daisies on railway banks, old walls and waste ground.
  • Uses of Rosebay Willowherb include natural cordage, clothing, and fire-lighting to edible roots, shoots, leaves and flowers as well as numerous medicinal applications, some of which are currently under investigation. It can be used to treat cuts or pus-filled boils by placing a piece of raw stem on the afflicted area.

Other Species

Sweet Violet

Sweet Violet

Viola odorata

Marsh-marigold
Ten bright yellow Marsh-marigold flowers

Marsh-marigold

Caltha palustris

Read Dead-nettle

Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum

Common Knapweed

Centaurea nigra

Also known as “Hardheads” or “Black knapweed”, this wild flower is one of our toughest meadow plants.

Knapweed is a firm favourite of our pollinating insects, being a source of good quality nectar. And as well as supporting our bee, butterflies and beetles its seeds provide food for many birds.

Identification

Somewhat thistle-like, common knapweed can be identified by its slightly spherical black/brown flower head, growing alone, topped with purple, pink or (more rarely) white. The bracts are triangular in shape. Its leaves are linear to lance-like in shape with incomplete lobes.

Greater knapweed – a close relation – is similar but its flowers are more garish and opulent and its leaves are fully lobed.

Distribution

Found throughout Britain.

Habitat

Knapweed is a wild flower of meadows and other grassland habitats from lawns to cliff-tops. It can often be seen on road verges where wildlife is allowed to thrive and also in hedges.

Best time to see

In flower, June to September.

Did you know…

  • In days gone by eligible young women would play a love-divination game by pulling out the rays and putting the plucked knapweed flower in their blouse. When as-yet unopened florets began to bloom it would tell her the man of her dreams was near. This game to foretell the future of love is also played with Plantago major.
  • Most of the local names including Bachelor’s buttons, Blue bottle and Iron knobs are explained by the hard, knobby heads, the bottle-shaped involucre and the toughness of the plant.
  • Knapweed was used for ruptures and wounds, bruises, sores, scabs and sore throat, etc.

Other Species

Sweet Violet

Sweet Violet

Viola odorata

Marsh-marigold
Ten bright yellow Marsh-marigold flowers

Marsh-marigold

Caltha palustris

Read Dead-nettle

Read Dead-nettle

Lamium purpureum