The Lady’s-slipper orchid is a very striking and special plant that grows up to 30cm tall. It can take up to ten years before flowering and when it does, it produces just a single flower per plant which appears in May or June.
It is the flower’s characteristic yellow slipper-shaped pouch that gives this species its name. These pouches attract bees which, once inside, can only get out through the narrow opening where they either collect or deposit pollen.
The species was once widespread and relatively common across the limestone areas of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. In fact, records from the late 1790s suggest that bundles of the flowers were sold on market stalls in Settle. But today, the plant is perhaps the rarest species in the UK, with just one wild site in the country which is in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Because of its rarity, the site has to be guarded to ensure that it is not taken, as the illegal collection of wild orchids is still a problem.
Work has been undertaken to try and improve the fortunes of this species. Seeds have been successfully micro-propagated at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, and seedlings of the Lady’s-slipper orchid have now been reintroduced to a number of sites where it is now flowering. One of these sites which welcomes members of the public is at Kilnsey Trout Farm in Wharefdale.
Frog orchids are masters of camouflage. They can easily be over-looked as their flowering spike only grows to between 4 and 20 cm tall and their colouring perfectly matches the grasses and other wild flowers that grow with it. However, once you have found one and ‘get your eye in’ you may see hundreds! The best time to see it in flower in the Dales is July to August. This species was previously known as Coeloglossum viride. Its Latin name changed in 2004 after scientists at the Natural History Museum, London and the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew made new discoveries about its genetic relationships with other orchids. However, many field botanists will continue to use the old name for convenience, at least for the time being.
Frog orchids are locally frequent throughout Britain and Ireland. They are native to a range of limestone habitats such as calcareous grasslands, on the vegetated clints of limestone pavement, roadsides and quarries in limestone areas between sea level and 915 m. In the Yorkshire Dales National Park we are fortunate to have quite extensive areas of these habitats in the South of the Park. Frog orchids have been recorded on suitable habitats in Upper Wharfedale, Malhamdale, Ribblesdale, Chapel-le-Dale and Dentdale. Smaller populations have also been recorded in Wensleydale.
Lesser Butterfly Orchid
The best time to see the beautiful lesser butterfly-orchid flower in the Yorkshire Dales is in June and early July when it could be found on a wide range of open habitats such as heathy pastures, grasslands (including meadows) and moorland up to 365m above sea level. Butterfly-orchids are pollinated at night by moths such as the Silver Y moth, the large elephant hawk-moth and the small elephant hawk-moth. After flowering, apparently just one mature seed capsule can contain up to 8,000 seeds. This species is easily confused with the Greater butterfly-orchid as the size of both can be variable. However, the lesser butterfly-orchid has parallel rather than divergent pollinia.
In the UK this orchid has a scattered natural distribution. Its stronghold is in the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland. In the Yorkshire Dales National Park there are a small number of historic records in mid-Wharfedale, Upper Littondale and Upper Ribblesdale. However, we feel that there is really good potential for this wildflower in the Park and hope that with the help of local naturalists and targeted survey effort we may discover more sites. We hope to learn from work that has been carried out on this species in the Cairngorms National Park.
Small White Orchid
Small-white Orchid is a very inconspicuous native wildflower which blooms for as little as two weeks in June alongside fragrant orchid. The flowers have a sweet scent and carry nectar in their spurs. They are pollinated by twilight-flying snout and plume moths. During the day, pollen can also be transferred by dance flies. This species is thought to be under recorded in the uplands so it is one really worth looking out for.
This species has three main habitats; heathlands, upland hay meadows and acidic mat-grass grasslands where the management maintains open, short and nutrient-poor conditions. It can also occur on recently burnt moorland but doesn’t persist when heather regrows. Apparently the species often grows in transitions from heath to grass-dominated communities.
Nationally, Small-white orchids are frequent in central, western and northern Scotland between 0 and 550m altitude. Their distribution is very scattered elsewhere in northern Britain and it is now very rare in England and is extinct in many places. In the Yorkshire Dales National Park there are historic records in Upper Wharfedale, the Ingleborough National Nature Reserve in Ribblesdale, Kingsdale, Dentdale, Arkengarthdale and the Howgills in the Rawthey Valley.