The common spotted orchid. Picture: Nuala Madigan
Last week, while completing the weekly butterfly monitoring on Lullymore West Bog, not only did I identify a variety of butterflies but the flowering orchids on the site also caught my attention.
This week’s wildflower is the common spotted orchid (nuacht bhallach as Gaeilge). The common spotted orchid can be found growing on roadside verges, meadows, fens and marshes in our local communities. Seven different varieties of spotted orchid have been identified in Ireland and identification between them can be difficult due to the fact that they are known to hybridise. This means that different varieties of spotted-orchid can cross breed forming what is known as a hybridised orchid, sharing a mix of both varieties of orchid.
Orchids have a number of characteristics that distinguish them from other flowering plants. Firstly, each flower has three petals and three sepals. The sepal of a flower functions as the protection of the flower when in bud and these are often green — however, in orchids they often take the colour of the petals, and thus, although orchids only have three petals they can appear to have more. The leaves of common spotted-orchid are basal; that is, they grow at the base of the plant, are dark green and are longer than they are wide.
Each leaf can bear purple spots but on occasion may not. The flowers of common spotted-orchid are arranged on a cylindrical spike and can vary between shades of pink; however all will have deep purple spots or streaks.
Each flower has a three-lobed lipped petal and, in the case of common spotted-orchid, the central lobe is always longer than the outer lobes on the lip. The purpose of this lipped petal is another distinguishing feature of orchids, as this petal is used as a landing pad for pollinators.
These flowers are supported at the top of a solid stem, which can vary in height from 14-30cm.
Orchids are a much-loved wildflower in our community. Not only are they visually pleasing but also are pleasantly scented.
If you would like help identifying or to learn more about a wildlife species contact me via e-mail email@example.com.