Varying in colour from white through to deep purple, this plant is more often found as a dense, cylindrical spike of pink flowers, sometimes up to 15cm long. Each individual little flower has spreading lateral sepals with the upper sepal and petals closed together to form a hood. The lower lip is 3-lobed and behind this is a long, slender, down-pointed spur. The flowers are extremely fragrant, clove-scented some say, and they bloom in July and August. The linear leaves are unspotted and short, mainly at the base of the plant, with a few small leaves along the stem. This is a native plant belonging to the family Orchidaceae.
My first record of this wildflower is at Black Head, Co Clare in 1979 and I photographed it in 2009 at the same place.
If you are satisfied you have correctly identified this plant, please record your sighting for the 2013 wildflower mapping survey at www.biology.ie
The Orchid family is a very large one and the plants belonging to it are fascinating and have long been considered very special. The word Orchis means testicles in Greek and the ancient Greeks attributed this word to the plants of this family as they felt the paired tubers of their root system resembled testicles. Today Orchids are big business with new, large, colourful varieties being produced constantly and available to purchase widely. However, for me there is absolutely nothing to beat the sight of a wild orchid viewed through a hand lens. I am immensely grateful to Brendan Sayers for his assistance in identifying this Orchid.
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 http://www.collinspress.ie/irelands-wild-orchids.html