However it can be overlooked as it often grows where bluebells have flowered and at the time the orchid comes into flower which is late May/June the bluebells have gone over and the orchid which is white or greenish white gets hidden by the now fruiting bluebell spears with their developing seed heads. However once you see them they are quite special.
The BSBI (Botanical Society or Britain and Ireland) distribution maps show that it has been recorded in several tetrads along the Wye valley area but not much north of Ross on Wye, also there is only one record to the east, away from the immediate vicinity of the Wye and that is in the Mitcheldean area.
There are two Butterfly orchids, greater and lesser and they are very similar. The difference is that the pollinia on the Greater butterfly orchid spread out to form an inverted ‘V’ shape whereas in the Lesser Butterfly orchid they hang down and are parallel to one another. So you need to look carefully. Indeed its scientific name Planthera means spreading anthers. The pollina turn brown as they get older, you can see this in the photo above.
The Greater Butterfly Orchid is the commoner of the two and is particularly found in the central southern counties of England. These were photographed in Gloucestershire, just within the in the boundaries of the Forest of Dean, but also close to the Wye valley. I have also seen them growing in ancient Coppice with Standard woodland in Norfolk. They do prefer alkaline soils and in my view will tolerate quite heavy shade. However it is the opinion that numbers have severely declined recently due to the canopy becoming too dense. This is what the BSBI say ‘P. chlorantha was lost from many sites during the 20th century. Reasons include the felling, disturbance and coniferisation of woodland, and the agricultural improvement of pasture and scrub. It may be lost from woodland if the canopy becomes too dense.’
They grow quite tall, up to 50/60cm and have two or three large leaves at the base, somewhat resembling those of Twaybalde, but then they also have a few little spear shaped leaves up the flower spike. The flowers are loosely arranged and usually number about 10 or so. As I said they are white but do have some green markings and in the deep shade of the woods they often look slightly greenish. The flower stalks which become the ovary have a peculiar spiral twisted look and the flower also has a very long spur, suggesting that it is pollinated by insects with a vey long tongue. In this photo you can see the spur extends back well past the main flower stalk.
Click to see other flowers from the Wye valley woodlands