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Lizard Orchid

Himantoglossum hircinum

Lizard Orchid is usually rare in the UK but in the right location it can be found in great numbers. It grows up to a metre in height but can nonetheless be difficult to spot when growing in long grass on roadside verges.

How to spot it

The long, tail-like lip is usually spiralled and dotted with pink or purple in the centre. Lizard Orchid’s flowers have a rather foul smell, said to be similar to the smell of goats.

How is it distributed?

The largest British population of the Lizard Orchid is amongst the golf links and sand dunes at Sandwich Bay in Kent, where there are reportedly many hundred plants. A large population can be found in East Anglia, along the stretch of the Devil’s Dyke that runs through Newmarket Racecourse.

Where to spot it

Lizard Orchid grows on calcareous soils and likes sunny positions on the edges of open woodland and on roadside verges. This orchid also grows in dry meadows, rocky areas, and open woods.

Things you might not know

  • The scientific name (Himantoglossum) derives from the Greek for ‘strap-tongue’ Hircinum is Latin for ‘goat-like’, and refers to the strong, foul smell of the flowers.
  • In most European languages it is known as ‘(Billy or male) goat orchid’.
  • The Lizard Orchid is pollinated by insects particularly bees.

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

Reindeer Moss

Cladonia rangiferina

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

Despite its name, reindeer moss is actually a lichen (in fact it is also known as ‘reindeer lichen’).

Composed of many light and dainty branches, it grows in cushion-like tufts. When dry it can be quite brittle but once wet it becomes somewhat sponge-like.

Where it grows

Reindeer moss is usually found on moors and heathland, often growing in pockets of soil attached to rocky outcrops.

Bright white Reindeer Moss surrounding green plants

Best time to see Reindeer Moss

Reindeer Moss can be spotted all throughout the year.

Something you might not know

The only naturalised reindeer in the UK are found in the Scottish Highlands where they live for much of the year on reindeer moss.

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

Gorse

Ulex sp.

A spiny evergreen shrub with yellow flowers.

Few plants make such an impact on the landscape as flowering gorse, through both its colour and scent. The latter is a distinctive coconut and vanilla smell, said to be quite pungent to some individuals, but weak to others.

The cracking of the seed-pods in hot sunshine is said to sound similar to the clacking calls of Stonechats which perch on its sprigs.

Habitat

Banks, heaths and sea-cliffs. Also a signature plant of rough open space and commonland.

Best time to see

Folklore says you should only kiss your beloved when gorse is in flower. The good news is that either common gorse or the closely related western gorse is pretty much in bloom whatever the time of year! In fact, a few yellow flowers can generally be seen even in harsh winter months.

Its peak time, however, is April and May when almost all the plant is covered in bright yellow blossom.

Did you know?

It was voted the County Flower of Belfast.

Before the Industrial Revolution, gorse was valued as a fuel for fires and kilns, as well as baker’s ovens. After crushing the spines (e.g. in cider mills), gorse also made valuable feeding for stock including cattle and horses in wintertime.

Straight stems of gorse make excellent walking-sticks and the flowers can be used to make a Gorse wine. It also makes a convenient anchor for washing, acts as a chimney brush and, when in flower, as a source of colour for Easter eggs. Gorse and heather have been bound together to make besom brooms. Gardeners have been known to lay chopped gorse over emerging peas to deter pigeons and mice.

In order to prevent over-exploitation, there have historically been a wide range of conditions on harvesting, such as in Oxfordshire where people were only allowed as much as they could carry on their backs. In Hertfordshire there were regulations prohibiting cutting outside a certain parish and digging-up entire bushes. In some places even the type and size of cutting implements have been specified.

Three species of Gorse that exist in the UK are Ulex europaeus, Ulex gallii and Ulex minor:

  • Ulex europaeus is also known as Western gorse, Furse, and Whin (originally thought to be a Scandinavian word). Other names for this type of Gorse are Fingers-and-thumbs, French-fuzz and Honey-bottle.
  • Ulex galii, commonly known as Dwarf furze, is also called Bed-furze, Cat-whin and Cornish fuzz. This species belong more to the west and to Ireland and will not tolerate lime in the soil.
  • Ulex minor belongs more to the south-eastern counties, East Anglia and the home counties.

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

Juniper

Juniperis communis

Juniper berries.

Description

A prickly, sprawling evergreen shrub in the Cypress family with short spiky leaves.

Juniper blooms with small yellow flowers, followed by ‘berries’ – actually fleshy cones, that start green but ripen to blue-black.

These are famously used to flavour gin and certain meat dishes particularly game and venison. Used whole they impart a bitter, crunchy bite to savoury dishes. In fact, the word “Gin” derives from either genièvre or jenever – the French and Dutch words for “juniper”

Juniper is dioecious, which means that it is either male or female, unlike most tree species. The form of individual bushes varies from being low and prostrate at the one extreme to cylindrical and conical at the other.

Close up photo of a Juniper berry on a bush

Did you know?

  • Juniper dates back 10,000 years and was one of the first tree species to colonise the UK after the last Ice Age.
  • Juniper berries are used to flavour gin and have other uses like firewood or as a substitute for barbed wire.
  • Juniper plants take at least seven years to grow and are vulnerable to being eaten by animals.
  • In the 19th century, large tracts of Juniper were harvested for fuel for illicit trade of unlicensed whisky stills
  • It has also been called Bastard killer as the berries were swallowed to procure abortions. Its reputation as an abortifacient has echoes in the Victorian belief that gin (aptly called ‘Mother’s ruin’) was effective for the same purpose.
gloved hand holding juniper berries with the reverse the red blog

What is Plantlife doing?

In the Saving England’s Lowland Juniper project, Plantlife joined forces with landowners, supported by Natural England, to revitalise Juniper across southern England. 48 patches of land at nine sites in Wiltshire and Oxfordshire were scraped back to create a grassland habitat suitable for Juniper to regenerate.

 
Read more

a field of grass field with a variety of flowers in pink, purple, yellow and white

How can I help?

Become a grassland guardian and help restore 10,000 hectares of species-rich grassland by 2030. Donate today.

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Ragged Robin

Ragged Robin

Silene flos-cuculi

Red Campion

Red Campion

Silene dioica

Pale Dog-violet

Viola lactea

Pale dog-violet in grass

A milky-flowered member of the violet family known in French as la Violette blanche (the white violet).

In fact the second part of its scientific name – lactea – means ‘milky’ in Latin. It has creeping stems originating from a rosette of leaves about its base.

Distribution

A species of humid heathland and grass heath in southern England, largely confined to key heathland districts including the Wealden and Thames Basin heaths, the New Forest and Dorset heaths, and through much of Devon and Cornwall (though rarely ever commonly).

Habitat

Pale Dog-violet is a species of humid heathland and grass heath (including the Culm grasslands), favouring areas with short vegetation and considerable bare ground created by burning, grazing or incidental disturbance such as rutting, turf cutting etc.

Pale dog-violet in grass

Key threats

The species’ greatest threat comes from the cessation of traditional management practices, notably winter swaling (burning of dead grass and dwarf shrubs) and traditional stock grazing, ideally by cattle and/or ponies.

Best time to see

May and June whilst flowering.

Other Species

Adder’s Tongue Spearwort

Adder's Tongue Spearwort

Ranunculus ophioglossifolius

Alexanders

Alexanders

Smyrnium olusatrum

Basil Thyme

Basil Thyme

Clinopodium acinos

Mouse-ear Hawkweed

Pilosella officinarum

Mouse-ear Hawkweed

This is a lovely little wildflower that spreads to form close-knit mats of leaves in dry, sunny spots.

Each plant has a small rosette of hairy ragged leaves that are dark green above but whitish and hairy underneath. They’re rounded at the tips and not toothed. The flowers are carried on long stems from the centre of these rosettes, up to 30cm tall. Each narrow and tightly packed bloom – one per stem – is like a dandelion but a paler lemon yellow in colour. They are followed by fluffy seed heads.

Distribution

Found throughout the UK, but rarer in north-west Scotland.

Habitat

Grows in dry grassy places like meadows, pastures, verges, lawns, heaths and dunes as well as waste ground.

Best time to see

When in flower, from May to August.

Mouse-ear hawkweed

Did you know?

  • The closely related fox-and-cubs (Pilosella aurantiaca) has striking clusters of reddish-orange flowers. A garden escape, it often colonises rough grassland, lawns, verges and churchyards.

Other Species

Adder’s Tongue Spearwort

Adder's Tongue Spearwort

Ranunculus ophioglossifolius

Alexanders

Alexanders

Smyrnium olusatrum

Basil Thyme

Basil Thyme

Clinopodium acinos

Thyme-leaved Speedwell

Veronica serpyllifolia

Despite being very common and widespread, this small speedwell is easily overlooked in lawns, meadows and pastures.

It spreads to form small patches of plain green hairless leaves that are carried in pairs and look similar to a large version of Thyme, hence the name.

The tips of the shoots rise up and turn into short flower spikes, bearing a succession of tiny white or pale blue flowers, 5-6mm across. Look closely and you’ll see that their uppermost petal is usually veined with darker blue. Only a few flowers open at a time and their pale colour can make this plant hard to spot.

Distribution

Found throughout the UK.

Habitat

Grows in a wide range of dry and damp places including grassy pastures, lawns and verges as well as woodland rides, heaths and cultivated land and waste ground.

Best time to see

When in flower, from March to October.

Did you know?

  • This flower is tolerant of trampling and is often found on the edges of paths and in field gateways.

Other Species

Adder’s Tongue Spearwort

Adder's Tongue Spearwort

Ranunculus ophioglossifolius

Alexanders

Alexanders

Smyrnium olusatrum

Basil Thyme

Basil Thyme

Clinopodium acinos