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Fragrant & Marsh Helleborine, Waitby
FRAGRANT ORCHIDS
IN CUMBRIA

Recent genetic research has shown that the three types of Fragrant Orchid found in the UK are sufficiently different to warrant being treated as separate species - Common, Heath and Marsh Fragrant Orchids.

All three species occur in Cumbria, but declines have occurred in the west of the county - the stronghold of the species is now in the south-east. Although the distribution of the three species is not well understood at the present time (as separate records were not often kept), it appears that the Heath Fragrant orchid is scarce in the county and Marsh Fragrant the most abundant.

They are most easily distinguished by a combination of lip shape, lateral sepal shape, habitat and flowering time, although care is needed as there are always specimens that are borderline or, where two or more of the three species occur together, hybrids of intermediate character.

The Cumbria Wildlife Trust reserve at Waitby Greenriggs, for example, holds all three species, including some white Marsh Fragrant. Latterbarrow usually has several plants of Common (paler and fewer flowers per spike - in the meadow area) but only two or three plants of Heath (darker and more densely flowered per spike - at the top of the escarpment) around mid-June. The following is a brief guide only:



COMMON FRAGRANT
G. conopsea

  • Lip about as wide as long, lobes about equal in length.
  • Lateral sepals parallel-sided and pointed, held at 30' to horizontal.
  • Flowers early June onwards.
  • Dry grassland, quarries, railway sides.

HEATH FRAGRANT
G.borealis

  • Lip longer than wide, central lobe longest.
  • Lateral sepals shorter, oval and pointed and held horizontally.
  • shortest and deepest pink of the three species, rarely more than 20 cm tall
  • Flowers June/July.
  • Hill pasture, grassy moorland.

MARSH FRAGRANT
G. densiflora

  • Lip wider than long, markedly shouldered.
  • Lateral sepals longer, parallel-sided, blunt at tip and held horizontally.
  • Flowers later, July onwards.
  • Damp places, alkaline flushes, often with Marsh Helleborine.

Common Fragrant
Orchid
20th June

Heath Fragrant Orchid
22nd June
Marsh Fragrant Orchid
scarce white variety.
15th July

Finally, this isn't a Fragrant orchid but as it's a similar colour I'm using this an an excuse to include a nice pic of one of my favourite orchids - the Pyramidal orchid.

Flowering a little earlier than any of the fragrants it is found on drier habitats which have a little lime in the soil. In Cumbria it is a speciality of the sand dune systems around the Duddon Estuary.