Mostly, I only see four species of orchid: Early purple, Common spotted, Bee and Pyramidal, so I find it tricky identifying other species. And the fact that many species of orchid hybridise with each other also complicates the identification picture. So, when a Twitter pal tagged me for help identifying a Southern marsh-orchid (Dactylorhiza praetermissa) I couldn’t assist, but decided to try to find some for myself to learn more about their appearance. I found one specimen during a recent visit to Aberbargoed (though not at the grasslands) and several at Cardiff’s Grangemoor Park.
The first thing I realised is that you can’t rely on colour. I found another orchid that looked the perfect shade of purple but didn’t have the right markings – perhaps a hybrid of Southern marsh and Common spotted. The two key things for Southern marsh-orchids, it seems to me, in non-botanist speak, are that the upper petals all reach skywards, like a person holding their arms in the air, and that the larger, lower petal has two cascades of spots that sometimes merge in to one but always fall in the centre of the petal, not spreading outwards. I’m sure there’s a more succinct way to phrase that but I think it’s best we each have our own ways to remember key points.