Phylum: Magnoliophyta - Class: Liliopsida - Order: Orchidales - Family: Orchidaceae
To find a recognisable orchid hybrid in the wild is exciting, but they are notoriously difficult to identify accurately because, even in relatively small groups of a single species, there can be considerable variation in the appearance of the flowers relating to shape, size, and most confusing of all, lip pattern and form.
One of the best demonstrations of the challenge of orchid identification is to pay a visit to the site of a large colony of Green-winged Orchids Anacamptis morio, such as the extensive colony that occurs in the grounds of Bristol Waterworks. There you can see literally hundreds of plants displaying the huge variation in colours that can occur within the same species.
A couple of basic 'rules' for recognising hybrids, but which are surprisingly difficult to apply in practice, are that the plant suspected of being a hybrid should show some of the the characteristics of both parents, and that both parents should grow in reasonably close proximity to the plant in question, or have been known to grow in the area.
Of all the orchid species that grow in Britain, the spotted orchids (Dactylorhiza species) produce the most hybrids. The plants photographed on this page are hybrids between the Common Spotted-orchid and the Southern Marsh-orchid. Both parents were growing close by and very much in evidence. Occasionally hybrids will appear in places where only one parent is present, and this can be an indication that one of the parents has become recently extinct in the area leaving the hybrid plant as the only evidence of its previous presence.
The large size and vigour of a plant is another reasonably reliable indication that the orchid in question is a hybrid. In the case of Dactylorhiza x grandis, the heavy leaf markings of the Common Spotted-orchid have been conferred to the hybrid (Southern Marsh-orchids seldom have spotted leaves), and also the notches on the lips of the flowers which are one of the main distinguishing features of the Common Spotted-orchid are present on the flowers. The rich pink colouring of the flowers and the dark loopy patterns sometimes found on the lips are inherited from the Southern Marsh-orchid parent.
The specimens shown here were photographed in late spring at Cae Blaen Dyffryn, a grassland nature reserve near Lampeter in West Wales.
The Plant List
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...