Orchids are among the most glamorous plants in the British & Irish Flora! We can enjoy a succession of different species throughout the year, from the Early-purple Orchid in spring to the Autumn Lady's-tresses at the end of the season. The pursuit of the elusive Ghost Orchid haunts the dreams of many botanists, the sex life of orchids is endlessly fascinating (and can be quite rude!) and changes in the distribution of the Bee Orchid are providing robust evidence of climate change, as BSBI Head of Science Kevin Walker explains here.
Some orchids are relatively easy to ID to species or at least to genus (Pyramidal Orchid, Spotted-orchids) but others are extremely difficult and orchid taxonomy has changed a great deal in recent years. BSBI Plant Cribs are available for helleborines, tongue-orchids, Fen Orchid and Fragrant-orchids and they are helpful but the taxonomy is no longer up-to-date. The orchid sections in Clive Stace's New Flora of the British Isles 4th ed. are reliable but to keep up with the very latest developments, the best options are:
- Join BSBI and enjoy exclusive access to our small team of dedicated orchid referees who will check your photographs and offer guidance.
- Take a look at the books, blogs, scientific papers and other resources listed on this page.
- If you use social media, there are various knowledgeable botanists who will be only too happy to help you get started with orchid ID - details below.
Books, blogs and other resources
The Orchid Hunter: a young botanist's search for happiness by Leif Bersweden. 2017. Available to buy here. We were honoured to have Leif as an exhibitor at the BSBI Exhibition Meeting in 2017. He is active on social media (links below) and is always happy to help fellow orchid hunters.
Orchid Summer: in search of the wildest flowers of the British Isles by Jon Dunn. 2018. Available to buy here and watch out for a blogpost from Jon coming soon to the BSBI News blog. Jon is a blogger and an all-round and very knowledgeable naturalist. He is also on Twitter where he's happy to help people with orchid ID.
Orchids of Britain & Ireland: a field and site guide by Anne and Simon Harrap. 2nd ed. 2018. Available to buy here. They have also published A Pocket Guide to the Orchids of Britain and Ireland. 2016. Available to buy here.
BSBI Species Accounts take an in-depth look at the identification; ecology; threats to, and suitable management for, almost 100 plant species, including these orchids:
- Green-winged Orchid Anancamptis morio
- Dark-red Helleborine Epipactis atrorubens
- Bog Orchid Hammarbya paludosa
- Musk Orchid Herminium monorchis
- Fly Orchid Ophrys insectifera
- Military Orchid Orchis militaris
- Small White Orchid Pseudorchis albida
- Autumn Lady's-tresses Spiranthes spiralis
Orchid expert Mike Waller (also on Twitter) developed this free guide in 2016, which helps you to identify orchids by their leaves. Mike was interviewed for the BSBI News blog in 2019 about his role as Project Officer for the Lesser Butterfly Orchid Species Recovery Project.
Orchids on video & on social media
On YouTube: our recent Irish Autumn Meeting featured a talk from BSBI Orchid Referee Prof Richard Bateman on the division of Fragrant-orchids into three species. You can watch the whole talk on our YouTube channel - Part 1 and Part 2.
We also have a playlist of all our Orchid videos.
On Facebook: there's a group called Native Orchids of Britain and Ireland, run by enthusiasts with the aim of sharing knowledge and information about our native orchids. It's a private group - anyone can apply to join but you need to tell the admins who you are, whereabouts you are based and most importantly, what your interest is in our native orchid flora.
On Twitter, there are several knowledgeable, friendly botanists who share great orchid content (and much more) and are happy to offer ID help: we've already mentioned @LeifBersweden, @dunnjons and @Mike_Waller_ but there's also @thenewgalaxy who is Orchid Officer for the North-West Rare Plant Initiative and also runs the @EuropeanOrchids account if you are venturing further afield to hunt for orchids.
Scientific papers about British & Irish Orchids
Recent orchid papers in British & Irish Botany, BSBI's free, open access, online scientific journal, include:
BSBI members can access a selection of papers by BSBI's orchid referees published in New Journal of Botany, the forerunner of British & Irish Botany. These are available via the BSBI members-only area. Apologies that we are unable to offer these papers to non-members.