Phylum: Magnoliophyta - Class: Liliopsida - Order: Orchidales - Family: Orchidaceae
The name 'pyramidal' comes from the conical shape of the young infloresence of this plant. Once the flower is fully developed it becomes more cylindrical or egg-shaped, which can sometimes cause confusion.
Left - young flowers still retaining their pyramidal shape. Once they open fully they will become oval or egg-shaped in appearance.
These tall, bright pinkish-purple orchids can appear in vast numbers on chalk downland, calcareous coastal grassland and other limestone habitats but are frequently seen on roadside verges too.
The Pyramidal Orchid can be found throughout the UK, in many European countries including Slovenia, and in North Africa and the Near East.
The coastal dune slacks are very good places for seeing these orchids in Britain and Ireland.
In South Wales, Kenfig National Nature Reserve near Port Talbot is a great spot for Pyramidal Orchids, while in North Wales Newborough Warren National Nature Reserve on the Isle of Anglesey also has excellent displays. In other parts of the UK, chalk downland as well as coastal cliffs will play host to these beautiful orchids.
In Britain in a good year these orchids will appear in their thousands from early June to late July. Further south in Europe, Pyramidal Orchids start flowering in March and April.
The specimens shown above were photographed close to the Algarve Coast in Portugal in May.
From time to time orchids mutate or produce unusually coloured or strangely shaped plants. Occasionally pure white specimens of the Pyramidal Orchid will occur within colonies. Although white forms have been recorded in Wales, we have yet to find them there, but we have seen them in France and also in the Algarve region of Portugal. This white variety is given the name Anacamptis pyramidalis var. albiflora by some authorities.
There is also a so-called resupinate-flowered form of the Pyramidal Orchid which appears within colonies of normal plants from time to time. These strange plants have flowers which are twisted around to appear almost upside down.
Above: Resupinate form of Anacamptis Pyramidalis flowering at Oxwich National Nature Reserve on the Gower Peninsula in June. Picture by kind permission Geoff Power.
Above: Anacamptis pyramidalis var. emarginata. This rare variety of the Pyramidal Orchid has an almost unlobed lip. It was first found in East Sussex in 1974 and has since been found elsewhere. The specimen shown on the left was photographed at Oxwich National Nature Reserve in mid-June. Picture: Geoff Power.
The Plant List
Sue Parker (2016) Wild Orchids of Wales - how, when and where to find them; First Nature
Sue Parker (2014) Wild Orchids of the Algarve - how, when and where to find them; First Nature
Chris Thorogood and Simon Hiscock (2014) Field Guide to the Wildflowers of the Algarve; Kew Publishing
Anne and Simon Harrap (2005) Orchids of Britain and Ireland; A&C Black
Pierre Delforge (2005) Orchids of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East; A&C Black
If you found this information helpful, we are sure you would also like books on the Wild Orchids of Wales, of The Burren, and of the Algarve. Author-signed copies are available here...