In fens and calcareous marshes, on lake-shores, damp pastures and wet dune slacks from June to August these pretty little orchids stand. Perennial plants, their beautiful flowers are held in loose spikes of twelve or more, each amazing little flower being comprised of three purple/red sepals, narrow red-marked white upper petals and a frilled lip below. This lower labellum is also white, is notched and has red veins and a central platform which has a yellow crinkled splotch above the white frills. This is one case where a picture really does speak a thousand words! Reaching up to 50cm in height, Marsh Helleborines are unmistakeable with their keeled and folded leaves at the base of the plant and their smaller, narrower stem leaves. These are native wildflowers belonging to the Orchidaceae family.
I found many of these lovely wildflowers on the North Bull Island in Co Dublin in July 2009 at which point I photographed them.
If you are satisfied you have correctly identified this plant, please submit your sighting to the National Biodiversity Data Centre
These plants are difficult to spot at first, but once you see one they suddenly seem to be everywhere, growing in great profusion. They are pollinated by small wasps, hoverflies and ants and they also multiply by new shoots on their rhizomes.
This plant is not commonly found and in Northern Ireland it is protected by the Wildlife (NI) Order.
To learn more about our Irish orchids, I would heartily recommend a really superb book on the subject which is published by the Collins Press and entitled 'Ireland's Wild Orchids - a field guide'.
Each of our native orchids is beautifully illustrated by the gifted botanical artist, Susan Sex and is an exquisite representation of an amazing plant; Susan's illustrations are complemented by carefully-chosen words from our National Botanic Gardens orchid specialist, Brendan Sayers. Susan's illustrations of key features of our native orchids are extremely useful when trying to identify a species and Brendan's descriptions help to broaden one's understanding of this complex and intriguing subject, and lead one nearer to making a possible identification. He also contributes information on the conservation of these magnificent little plants and gives details of where they might be found. Please seek out this masterpiece from your usual bookseller or find it on Gill Books - Nature - Ireland's Wild Orchids