New Forest orchids are one of the more unusual plants to be found. Orchids are perennial plants, and the family of orchids (called Orchidaceae), which includes at least 25,000 species with more being discovered each year, is the largest and most highly evolved family of flowering plants on earth. All species rely to some extent on a complex symbiotic relationship with fungal partners, utilizing nutrients provided by the fungi. The orchid flower breaks down the fungal cells from which it derives the soil nutrients which it is unable to obtain for itself. Orchids have extraordinary lifecycles and sometimes bloom only once in a decade. All orchids are pollinated by insects which they attract either by their smell or by resembling insects. Their seeds are very small and when they are spread by the wind, they need to land somewhere that has ideal conditions of light, moisture and warmth. Orchids are perennial plants and during the winter they die back tuber or root system from which fresh leaves arise each spring.
There are around 50 varieties of these exotic plants found in the UK and the New Forest is home to 15 of them which are shown below. Perhaps smaller and less showy than those that adorn our homes, this does not detract from their beauty or the pleasure of seeing these plants in their natural environment.
NEW FOREST ORCHIDS – all photographs ©Simon Currie
Please do not pick or remove New Forest orchids or any of the forest’s wild flowers – leave them for everyone to enjoy. (Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is an offence to intentionally uproot any wild plant without the permission of the owner of the land on which the plant is growing. Uprooting is defined as ‘digging up or otherwise removing the plant from the land on which it is actually growing’ – this applies to all land in the New Forest.)
The Natural History Museum has produced an excellent Orchid Identification Guide which can be found by clicking here.