RICHARD WILLIAMSON: A good year for the orchids – even rare ones

This has been a phenomenal year for wild orchids in Sussex.

It is thought that even the extremely rare lady orchid has reappeared in the county.

Orchid watchers are hoping to find a lizard orchid as well – perhaps the greatest prize of all.

Both have been known at times, but these rare flowers which to botanists have the same cache as Lalique or Faberge to collectors, may be seen only once in a lifetime.

Lady orchids were seen in 1935 in Arundel Park and in 1959 by the late Oliver Buckle at Chanctonbury Ring.

They are very beautiful. Each of the flowers clustered at the top of their slim green carrying stem is like a tiny lady in a pink crinoline ball gown.

You can see her slim pink arms widely held. Her head composed of sepals and petals appears with its extravagant hair wildly flung. The lip is pale pink and the scent is fragrant.

I have seen this gorgeous flower years ago at Wye and Crundale Downs NNR in Kent, bursting in a colony into fresh ground recently cleared of scrub.

Like many orchids it needs fresh ground opened up, as does the corn poppy.

The lizard orchid is a completely different sight. Each of its flowers clinging to a tall stem looks like a genie rising from its bottle prison.

It also reminds one of the Joker in a pack of cards.

There again, it does look a little like a lizard with a long skinny tail which is the lip 
of the flower.

The late Major Bill Phillips of Felpham found it once in Goodwood Park. A couple of years ago a single specimen was found near Amberley.

The complete flower head is unmistakable and rather resembles a miniature Tibetan prayer flag.

Beachy Head has been the mecca for orchid watchers this year, with many of the rare burnt-tip orchids.

These have small clusters of flowers, the top of which seems to have been singed red. This has also been a good place to find white bee orchids.

I have seen off-white bee orchids in West Dean village in the past.

The commoner orchids have all done well, too. I have found thousands in the coppice woods around my home, and they 
grow on what I laughably call 
my lawn, actually a miniature jungle of wild flowers, including a fly orchid.

I took the photograph of green-winged orchids, shown here, on a lawn in Heyshott. These too have done very well this year. They are not all that widespread.

A big colony at Bosham Hoe sometimes shows 30,000 flower heads, and Ebernoe churchyard has them, too. So why have we seen an orchid resurgence this year? No doubt the mile, wet winter has given this juicy-stemmed family, in which about 26 species are usually represented in the county, a chance.

They were given a rest in previous years with cold winters, which also applied to the wild daffodils.

The season is not over, it extends into September with some lovely species such as autumn lady’s tresses still to come while you should see the rare musk orchids if you go to Heyshott on two of my walks coming up this month.