Early Spider Orchids on the Dorset Coast

Native orchid time is back with us – especially if you live in Dorset. Today was our annual pilgrimage to the Purbecks to see the UK’s largest population of our earliest flowering orchid – Ophrys sphagodes or the Early Spider Orchid.

The orchids are easy to find amongst short turf from especially around Dancing Ledge and areas at Durlston.

What a remarkable flower – they are at their peak for the next week but will flower until the end of the month.

I also found the first Anacamptis morio in flower, below(just in flower) – promising more native orchid splendour later in the year.


Odontoglossum cristatum – 365 days of orchids – day 1569

This wonderful orchid has been in flower since December and with 12 flower spikes will still be in flower at the end of May.


We have had this species at Writhlington since 1996 and it is always a special time when plants come into flower. Our largest plant has ten spikes but for the first time it will not be going to a show. I don’t think it will mind as it has already won Grand Champion of Europe at the Paris Show in 2018, a Cultural Certificate from the RHS and countless rosettes. The clone ‘Writhlington is a particularly large flowered and long spiked individual with deep red flowers. We have other clones too that are smaller growing and have brown flowers.

 Grand Champion in Paris

The clone ‘Writhlington is a particularly large flowered and long spiked individual with deep red flowers. We have other clones too that are smaller growing and have brown flowers.

Odontoglossum cristatum is native to Ecuador and Colombia where it is found in cloud forest from 1500-2600 m altitude and so it is very well suited to growing in our Cool Americas section. I have always known this plant as Odontoglossum cristatum but odontoglossum species have been included in Oncidium on the basis of molecular studies although there is scientific support for reinstating Odontoglossum.

Our plants go back to a seedling purchased in 1996 and since then we have grown the species in pots, mounted and in baskets. We find that the species particularly enjoys a basket where it produces masses of roots and can grow into a specimen.



Epidendrum parkinsonianum- 365 days of orchids – day 1568

We have some really spectacular orchids out in flower but few can match the splendour of this Central American species.

Epidendrum parkinsonianum is a species we are particularly fond of, since finding it in the volcanic mountains of Costa Rica, and over the past 20 years, growing this wonderful specimen in our Cool Americas Section. The large white flowers are pollinated by large Hawk Moths and the flowers are fragrant at night.

The plant has won many prizes including best Laelineae species at the European Orchid Show in Paris in 2017 (below)

In Costa Rica we found the species in the forests clothing the Poas volcano, where it grows at around 1200m altitude, hanging on the trunks and main branches of trees near rivers. The forest here is cool and wet, and the plants growth habit means that it grown in quite deep shade.

This habitat surprised us as we had previously assumed from the thick terete leaves that it needs a dry bright environment. Moving the plant into cool shady conditions in our Cool Americas section (minimum 12C) in 2007 has resulted in much better growth and heavy flowering. We keep the plant damp throughout the year.

Interestingly we have another clone which is quite different with shorter leaves and smaller flowers. We have found that this clone prefers to grow warmer in our Warm Americas section, which is also brighter. Perhaps there are distinct populations of the species in Costa Rica evolved for slightly different climates.


Leptotes bicolor – 365 days of orchids – day 1567

We have a wonderful species for you today. This miniature member of the Cattleya family is a mass of flowers every April and a reminder of the remarkable orchids of the Mata Atlantica, Brazil.

Leptotes bicolor is one of the species we found during our expeditions to Brazil in 2000 and 2006. We observed it growing on a shady moss covered granite rock face in dryish forest at 900m altitude. We cultivate it in our Warm Americas section (minimum 150C) and mounted on bark where it is watered every day. We have found a semi shaded spot that replicates the species’ native cliff face habitat.

The leptotes is the white dots in the photo below on the shaded rock. Note also spanish moss growing on the tree and arboreal ants nests in the tree too.

The plant of Leptotes bicolor in our top photographs have been in the school greenhouse since 1994 when it arrived as a seedling mounted on the small piece of cork bark it still clings to. It has steadily grown into a stunning ball of small terete leaves and masses of white and pink flowers. It won a  Certificate of Cultural Commendation from the RHS Orchid Committee in 2018 is now in need of dividing.

We have seedlings doing well in the propagation lab and hope to have seedlings available later this year, then more people can enjoy this wonderful species and be transported to the Organ Mountains of Brazil.



Vanda tricolor var. suarvis – 365 days of orchids – day 1566

April sun brings real warmth to the greenhouse and the higher temperatures lead to a heady scents from our fragrant orchids, and our Warm Asia section is currently filled with the delicious scent of this giant Vanda species.


The plant is now over 2m tall with large flower spikes of beautiful waxy flowers, and a heady sweet scent.

This grand orchid is native to lowland forest in Java and is clearly determined to become a giant orchid over time. The plant produces stiff alternate leaves 30cm long.

The plant is loving life in Warm Asia and has three new growths coming near the base and is well on its way to becoming a giant bush of Vanda.

Sometimes this plant is listed as a the species Vanda suavis, separate from the other form of Vanda tricolor (also found in Java) which has fewer, rounder flowers, but we will follow in our labelling.