So many people have enjoyed getting back to the delights of a walk on the Heathlands, and may have seen the new residents, the longhorn cattle. Sadly the botanical survey scheduled for June and July, the fifth and final in the series to set a data baseline, has had to be postponed. But the flowers are there for all to see, from the simple golden tormentil that spangles on the ground all summer, to the elaborate flower structure of the two orchid species that are the stars of May and June.
The pale pink or white spires of the Heath spotted orchid, Dactylorhiza maculata, are scattered over the open areas of the slope, west of the upper bog and on the bog margins. It likes the same acidic habitat as the cross-leaved heath, Erica tetralix, and bog asphodel, Narthecium ossifragum, also now in flower. Dactylorhiza is from the Greek daktylos, finger, and rhiza¸ root, describing the divided tubers. Maculata means spotted, although the lightly scented flowers, resembling a dense cluster of frilly skirts, often have dark reddish dashes as well as dots. This is a plant of western Britain and Ireland, now very uncommon in the Southeast. In Europe it ranges from Iceland to Russia to Italy, where some experts regard it as a variation of the Common spotted orchid. It is pollinated by bees, flies and other insects, but provides no nectar in return. Seedlings may take two years to appear above ground and another three years to flower.