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Burnt-tip Orchid

Orchis ustulata

Burnt-tip Orchid is a white orchid with a deep crimson peak – the “burnt tip” in question.

How to spot it

This small orchid can be difficult to spot. Plants grow from a tuber which is replaced each year and tend to grow in small clumps. Pale green leaves form a rosette from which a flower spike holding between 15-50 flowers emerges.

Where to spot it

Burnt-tip Orchid is confined to a scattering of sites in southern England, especially the Wiltshire Downs. It is found in short, chalk downland turf, and occasionally strays into meadows.

How’s it doing?

Burnt-tip Orchid was once more common and its scarce population continues to decline. This decline is due to changes in agricultural practices.

Things you might not know

  • Burnt-tip Orchid is the County Flower of Wiltshire, where the largest colonies can be found.
  • The flowers smell of honey but produce no nectar.
  • Ustulata comes from the Latin word ustulus which means ‘slightly burnt.’

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Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

Corn Cleavers

Galium tricornutum

Corn Cleavers is an annual wildflower rather like the common Cleavers but much rarer and not so clingy.

How to spot it

Corn Cleavers is a rough, straggly plant with whorls of narrow leaves. The stems are sometimes square in cross-section. It differs from its common relative as it has cream-coloured flowers, as opposed to the white ones of the common weed. The fruits are spherical nutlets hanging in pairs at the leaf axils. As they lack hooked barbs, they do not stick to your clothes.

Where to spot it

It used to be a common weed of cereal crops, but has declined dramatically over the last 60 years owing to changing agricultural methods. Corn Cleavers is now found in only two sites in central-southern England. It prefers disturbed ground, mainly in arable fields, but also on hedge-banks and sea cliffs.

How’s it doing?

Corn Cleavers is classified as Critically Endangered. The use of fertilisers and herbicides, the loss of field margins and the development of highly productive crop varieties have led to its decline.

Things you might not know

  • In the Chilterns, the seeds of this rare arable weed were made into tops for lace pins.
  • In addition to Corn Cleavers, its common names include, three-horned bedstraw, rough corn bedstraw and roughfruit corn bedstraw.
  • Corn Cleavers is occasionally a weed of grain fields.

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Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

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Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

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

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

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

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

Tree Lungwort

Lobaria pulmonaria

Tree Lungwort spanning entire branch of ancient tree

Tree Lungwort is a beautiful, vibrantly green, leafy lichen. It is one of the largest lichens and is an indicator of ancient woodland.

Where to spot it

Tree lungwort is found mainly in Scotland, particularly the west coast, where the wetter climate provides the moisture it requires to thrive. Because of air pollution, it is much sparser in the rest of Britain, confined to a few sites in wilder areas, such as the Lake District and parts of Wales.

It can be found growing on trees and old wood in areas of low air pollution.

Tree Lungwort growing on tree trunk, protected by artificial green mesh

Best time to spot it

Tree Lungwort can be spotted all throughout the year.

Things you might not know

  • Its lobes look a bit like the billowing shape of human lungs, which is where its name comes from.
  • In medieval times, medics would use Tree Lungwort to treat lung disorders because of its resemblance to human lungs.
  • Though Tree Lungwort can be found at multiple sites across the UK, in some of these sites its reproduction is limited.

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

Fingered Speedwell is a low-growing, hairy plant with deep blue flowers.

How to spot it

Fingered Speedwell has leaves that rarely grow longer than a centimetre and are deeply divided into parallel-fingered lobes. Its upper leaves are stalkless, whereas the lower leaves have short stalks. Its flowers are borne at the tip of the stem amongst leaf-like structures called bracts.

Where to spot it

Fingered Speedwell is restricted to just a few sites in East Anglia (Breckland) and Yorkshire. Generally an arable species, it is typically found in the margins of fields sown with winter cereals and also on fallow land or waste places. It has also been recorded in tracks, gravel pits, sand banks and disturbed parched grassland. It favours sandy calcareous or slightly acidic soils.

Single Fingered Speedwell flower among its bracts, surrounded by parallel-fingered lobes.

How’s it doing?

Fingered Speedwell is classified as ‘Endangered’ and is therefore considered to be facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild. It is protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. This makes it an offence to intentionally pick, uproot or destroy any plants. The species is also listed as a priority species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

What is the cause of its decline?

The main causes of the decline of Fingered Speedwell are a direct result of the intensification of arable farming. Key factors include the introduction of broad-spectrum herbicides and the high increase in nitrogen fertiliser used on modern crop systems. Several sites have also been lost to development.

Fen Orchid

Liparis loeselii

small yellow orchid flowers on a light green stalk

Description

One of our rarer plants, its pretty pale yellow flowers liven up our dunes.

This wild flower is difficult to spot as it is small (around 8cm tall) and inconspicuous. The leaves wrap around the bottom of the single stem which supports several flowers towards the top of the plant.

The orchid is dependent on the unique, open conditions of fenland, a naturally marshy area. Fen orchid needs wet areas with bare sand, short grasses and a lot of calcium in the soil.

The species has declined due to habitat loss as a result of wetland being reclaimed for agricultural use or fens being allowed to “scrub over” and slowly revert to woodland. Plantlife has worked with Suffolk Wildlife Trust to translocate Fen Orchid to restored habitats.

Threats to Fen Orchid

The majority of the Fen Orchid populations were lost through drainage and in the late 20th Century through peat digging and mowing.  Other threats include climate change, inappropriate water and habitat management.

Did you know?

  • Fen orchid is one of the most threatened wild plants in Europe and is listed on Annex II of the Habitats and Species Directive, one of only nine flowering plants in Britain afforded this level of protection.
  • Fen orchids are different from other plants because they don’t usually grow in soil. Instead, they grow on clumps of moss or on sedge tussocks in wet areas called fens. This way of growing is similar to how tropical orchids grow on trees.
  • Two forms of fen orchid are found in Britain. The dune form is now found only in the dunes at Kenfig, while the other occurs only in the fens of East Anglia.
  • The Norfolk Fen Orchid are different to Wales Fen Orchid, because they have more flowers and pointy, oval-shaped leaves instead of round ones like the Welsh plants.

What is Plantlife doing?

After a decade of research and partnership work, the orchid has been re-discovered at former sites and the total population has risen through proper management.

Read more

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

How can you help?

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

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Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Ragged Robin

Ragged Robin

Silene flos-cuculi

Red Campion

Red Campion

Silene dioica

Tufted Saxifrage

Saxifraga cespitosa

small flowers growing in between rocks

The Tufted Saxifrage population in Wales grows on just a couple of boulders where it is extremely threatened by spring droughts and lack of winter snow cover.

Distribution

Just 2 small boulders at one site in Wales and a number of sites in Scotland.

Habitat

Cliff ledges and boulders on calcium rich rocks in Eryri and the Scottish Highlands

Best time to see

This species flowers from May through to early June however the inaccessibility of its sites makes it a very difficult species to see in the wild.

Tufted saxifrage plant

Did you know…

Tufted Saxifrage was first discovered in the wild in Wales in 1796 but wasn’t seen between the late 1800’s and the 1950’s when it was rediscovered by Evan Roberts (the first warden of Cwm Idwal National Nature Reserve).

In the 1970’s its population was bolstered by a conservation reintroduction and it saw a population high in the 1980’s. Since then it has seen a steady decline and the Welsh population of Tufted Saxifrage now (2023) numbers just seven plants in the wild.

Through the Tlysau Mynydd Eryri Project (part of Natur am Byth!) we are successfully cultivating Welsh Tufted Saxifrage plants with a plan to enable them to move higher up the mountains of Eryri to sites where they will see snow for longer in the winter.

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum

Rosy or Irish Saxifrage

Saxifraga rosacea subsp. rosacea

Rosy Saxifrage - Robbie Blackhall-Miles

The Irish Saxifrage was once found in Wales too. Its upright buds and bright white flowers distinguish it clearly from the other ‘mossy’ saxifrages found in the British Isles.

Distribution

Several localities in Ireland and once known from just one locality in Eryri, Wales.

Habitat

Calcium rich rock ledges and crevices.

Best time to see

You can see this species flowering in cultivation at the National Botanic Garden of Wales during May and June

Rosie Saxifrage - Robbie Blackhall-Miles

Did you know?

Rosy Saxifrage is extinct in the wild in Wales. It was last seen in the wild in Wales in the 1960’s.

Richard Roberts discovered a piece of a plant that had been washed down from a cliff whilst he was leading a group on a geology walk. Noticing it was something different he took the piece of plant home and grew it. All the Welsh Rosy Saxifrage material now kept in cultivation came from that small piece of plant. Through the Tlysau Mynydd Eryri Project (part of Natur am Byth!) we plan to reintroduce Rosie Saxifrage to the wild again in Wales.

Other Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

Bastard Balm

Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum