Midsummer wildflowers in Shetland

150624 Common Spotted Orchid hebridensis blogsizeI’ve mentioned what an unforgiving and deeply unpleasant few weeks it’s been lately – for one reason and another it’s been the summer that never happened here, and is if in sympathy the flowers have seemed sluggish and slow to animate too. I still have some daffodils in flower in my garden, and we’re almost into July…

I made a special trip earlier this week to visit one of the few known colonies of Common Spotted Orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii here in Shetland. Last officially recorded at the site in 2005, they were said to be reasonably numerous. Not so ten years later – I struggled to find them, and when I did there were precious few – I think they’ve suffered from over-zealous application of fertiliser by a local farmer, poaching of their habitat by cattle, and steady encroachment of Yellow Flag Iris Iris pseudacorus. I couldn’t manage even two dozen of them there.

150624 Common (hebridensis) and Heath Spotted Orchids blogsizeA shame, as they’re pretty rare here and vastly outnumbered by Heath Spotted Orchid Dactylorhiza maculata, a close relative and one that’s ubiquitous across the islands. I found one of each flowering close side by side – a handy comparison, and you can see the Common Spotted (on the left) has a much spikier, looser flowerhead and, critically, deep incisions between the lobes at the base of each flower with a prominent spiky central lobe; Heath Spotted has a tiny little central lobe and big blousy skirts on either side. The Common Spotted in Shetland are said to be subspecies hebridensis, which as the name suggests is commonplace in the Western Isles. Not so here…

150624 Spring Squill blogsizeMeanwhile, at home I have a new Northern Marsh Orchid Dactylorhiza purpurella¬†intrepidly colonising my front lawn – it’s just a tight bud at the moment, but I’m going to have to mow carefully around it. My Spring Squill Scilla verna are perfectly safe – growing on a rocky, steep bank where neither mower nor sheep can damage their beautiful sky blue flowers.

They’re looking good at the moment, oblivious to the generally miserable excuse for a summer going on around them.

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