Heath spotted-orchid

The Heath spotted-orchid, Dactylorhiza maculata, usually appears in June, its beautiful spikes of pink flowers rising above the long grass of meadows and river pasture.  It prefers the damp, acid soils of heathland, bogs and marshland, flowering best in sunny spots that have been left undisturbed.

Heath spotted-orchids can range from almost pure white to dark pink, and their flowers are mottled and splashed with magenta.  The spikes can grow to about 20 cm in height, and the flowers form a cone shape as they open;  the lower lip is characterised by a pronounced central ‘tooth’. Leaves are long, lance-like and bright green, with spots of reddish-brown;  these are usually hidden by grass or other vegetation.

In the Western Isles, a sub-species exists which is the Hebridean spotted-orchid (ssp. ericetorum);   this is occasionally found on the machair that fringes many western beaches.

The Heath spotted-orchid may sometimes be confused with the Common spotted-orchid, but the latter tends to prefer chalky soils and has a slightly narrower lip to the flowers.   Heath spotted-orchids have a wide and varied range, occurring throughout Europe, in habitat as diverse as coastal marshes and high-altitude moorland.

Mid-June is a great time to look for these lovely orchids;  in fact, one or two seem to have put in an appearance on our lawn.  A great excuse not to mow it!

Photographs copyright © Colin Woolf


  1. Homestead Ramblings says:

    These are so pretty. I love the inside swirls of color.

  2. Super photos of such lovely flowers…and the lawn can wait!

  3. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many orchids together. There are quite a few different species at Backwater Reservoir in Angus but just the odd one here and there, not clustered like these beauties. They really are lovely, and great photos!

    • These were in a big group, on the shore of Seil Island. I think that’s the most we’ve seen, too – mainly they seem to occur in twos or threes.

  4. They are beautiful Jo. No mowing those beauties down and how interesing that they don’t normally grow in groups. Our native orchids like to grow in our native bush.

    • Thanks, Lyn. These were probably the best we’ve seen, photographed by a sea loch in the west of Scotland. But we’ve now found four on our lawn and are thinking of opening a nature reserve! 🙂

  5. Gorgeous photo’s – I love orchids, especially when there are lots of them like this!

  6. What a lovely wildflower!

    • It’s really beautiful, and we’re lucky to have seen so many. We’ve seen fewer this year, so far anyway – possibly because we’ve been unable to get out in this awful weather! Thanks for your comment.

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