17 May 2010
The green-winged orchid is one of a group of threatened plants dependent on infertile or nutrient poor grasslands. Once widespread, it has declined steadily over the last 60 years due to agricultural improvement of its grassland habitat. The prominent green veins which line the flower’s hood give it its common name. Despite lacking nectar, the sweet flowers makes them attractive to insects, particularly queen bumblebees which have just emerged from hibernation.
Latin name: Anacamptis morio. Morio means “fool” or “jester” as the hooded appearance of the flower resembles a jesters hat.
The green-winged orchid is found in the southern half of England, as far north as Durham. Despite being locally abundant in some areas, it is in decline and now occurs in half of the 10km squares where it was previously recorded. More worryingly, the number of populations within each of these squares is also known to have declined due to habitat loss. Once lost it is difficult to re-establish in new places, even on those sites that held former colonies, possibly due to the additional loss of particular soil fungi it requires for survival.
Where to see and when:
This species is most frequently found in hay meadows and pastures, but keep an eye out for it on sand dunes, heaths and along roadsides and in churchyards where grassland is infertile. Good sites include: Fosters Green Meadows NNR in Worcestershire; Muston Meadows NNR in Leicestershire; and Upwood Meadows NNR in Cambridgeshire.
Green-winged orchid flowers from late April to June and whilst the majority of flowers are purple, colours range from white through to pink. Leaves are lance shaped and unspotted, which distinguish it from the Early spotted orchid. Remember to look out for the distinctive green striping on the sepals which extend as wings from the hooded flower head.
What’s being done:
Recolonisation, recovery and expansion is expected to be extremely slow. For this reason protecting the places where it still occurs and ensuring these are well managed is a priority. Natural England is working to achieve this by bringing such sites into beneficial grassland management under the Higher Level Stewardship scheme.