The pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis) is the most common orchid in the British Isles, with its distinctive bright flowers. Traditionally, some southern Mediterranean countries harvest its tubers to make a nutritious fine white powder, known as salep, that can be used in drinks, cereals and bread making.
- Scientific name: Anacamptis pyramidalis
- Common name/s: pyramidal orchid, pyramid orchid
- Family: Orchidaceae
- Origin: native
- Habitat: grasslands, coastal habitats, roadside verges
- Flowering months: June and July
Habitat of the Pyramidal Orchid
The Anacamptis pyramidalis species grows on grassland. While it is most commonly found in vast numbers on chalk and limestone grasslands, including chalk downland and coastal areas, pyramidal orchids are an increasingly common sight on roadside verges, along canal banks and in motorway reservations.
As the pyramidal orchid prefers mild climates, you’re more likely to see it in southern England and Wales. Its presence is quite rare in Scotland, although there are some notable colonies to be found in the Outer Hebrides.
How to Identify The Orchid
The name Anacamptis comes from Greek, meaning to bend forwards, with the pyramidalis referencing the pyramid-like structure of the flowers. Plants are usually between 20-60cm tall with a slender green stem that has a distinctive bend just behind the flowers – as featured in their name.
The pyramidal orchid has narrow green-grey leaves with pointed tips that can grow up to 25cm long. The leaves arch outwards, with several brown sheaths at the stem base. Any leaves near the top of the stem are very small and bract-like.
Highly distinctive, as the flowers start to open from the bottom, this orchid has an unmistakable pyramidal shape. Once they have opened, there can be as many as one hundred separate flowers, and it becomes more oval in form.
Colours can vary from bright pink flowers to deep magenta, as well as very rare pure white pyramidal orchids. The individual flowers are composed of six petals, with a large lower petal that is trilobate in form. It also has a resupinate-flowered form, where you may find specimens with their flowers upside down compared to normal forms.
Are Pyramidal Orchids Rare?
As the most common and the most widespread wild orchid in the UK, the pyramidal orchid is not that rare, provided you are in an area that favours their natural habitat. Like most orchids, it needs a specific type of fungus to be present in the soil in order to absorb sufficient water and nutrients.
It’s a perennial plant. Although being fairly sensitive, its appearance can vary considerably from one year to the next. In a good year, pyramidal orchids can appear in their thousands, carpeting the ground. They do not have protected conservation status.
Where Can I Find Wild Orchids in the UK?
While the pyramidal orchid favours areas with plenty of chalk in the soil, it also does well in a variety of habitats. If you are looking for wild orchids in the UK, you could always take a trip to the Isle of Wight, where the pyramidal orchid has been named County Flower.
Coastal dunes are also another popular location to see these pyramid-shaped orchids in both Britain and Ireland, as well as grasslands along the southern coastal cliffs of England. The Isle of Anglesey in North Wales, plus Kenfig Nature Reserve in the south, also have some beautiful displays of Anacamptis pyramidalis plants.
Have you seen pyramidal orchids? What can you say about this uniquely shaped flower? Tell us about it in the comments section.