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10 Jun 2020

Blooming gorgeous: northern marsh orchid

A purple flower grows in grassland, surrounded by long grass and other yellow flowers.
Northern marsh orchid
These purple flowers are northern marsh orchids, just one of the five types of orchid we have growing on the nature reserve.

The gorgeous northern marsh orchid (Dactylorhiza purpurella) is very recognisable, bringing splashes of bright purple to the rich green grassland at St Abb’s Head. It’s not the tallest orchid, growing up to around 25cm, with broad green leaves at the base. Its diamond-shaped petals are violet, with darker line markings. The flowers, as with many orchids, form spikes at the top of a long stem. Up to 80 flowers can grow on just one stem!

Northern marsh orchids are best admired in early summer, when they flower during the milder weather in coastal places. They’re a big feature of the Hebridean machair, and it’s lovely to see them on the east coast at the reserve. They’re pollinated by bees, which are attracted to the reserve in summer by the large number of wildflowers.

A close-up of a meadow, with mainly grass but spots of wildflower colour.
The species-rich grassland at St Abb’s Head

Northern marsh orchids are one of the plant species that we’re working hard to protect at St Abb’s Head. We carry out a lot of habitat management work on the nature reserve, which includes controlling invasive plants like bracken, creeping thistle and gorse so they don’t smother our beautiful wildflowers.

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