Carolyn Thomas MS with a Greater Butterfly Orchid (Plantanthra chlorantha)
Carolyn Thomas MS with a Greater Butterfly Orchid (Plantanthra chlorantha)

What are Butterfly Orchids?

Butterfly Orchids are a group of orchids that are found in Europe, Asia, and North America. They are named for their flowers, which resemble butterflies. There are over 20 different species of Butterfly Orchids around the world, but in Wales we have the Lesser Butterfly Orchid (Platanthera bifolia) and the Greater Butterfly Orchid (Platanthera chlorantha).

Why are Butterfly Orchids Important?

Butterfly Orchids are important for a number of reasons. They are a food source for butterflies and other pollinators. They also reflect properly managed meadows and grasslands, a highly important are for wildlife and carbon storage.

Lesser Butterfly Orchid

The Lesser Butterfly Orchid is a small, delicate orchid that is found in Europe, Asia, and North America. It is typically found on a wide range of nutrient-poor, damp, marshy, open habitats in sloping fields, which are have not been ploughed, fertilised and basic grazed. The Lesser Butterfly Orchid is a threatened species in many parts of its range, showing a 75% decline since the 1940s. Populations tend to be small and sometimes exist only fleetingly at particular sites.

The Lesser Butterfly Orchid is registered on the Red List of vulnerable species for the UK and the Natural Environment Research Councils Priority Species list for protections under Section 7 of the Environment Act (Wales) 2016.

Greater Butterfly Orchid

The Greater Butterfly Orchid is a larger, more robust orchid than the Lesser, but is also classed as scarce. It is typically found in open woodlands, preferring a little more shade/cover.

How do you tell them apart? The main feature, other than overall size is within the flowers themselves, both species have polliana, however the Lesser Butterfly Orchid has parallel facing ones, quite close together, while the Greater Butterfly Orchid has ones which are angled.

Threats to Butterfly Orchids

Butterfly Orchids are threatened by a number of factors, including:

  • Habitat loss: Butterfly Orchids habitats are being lost to development, over grazing, agriculture, and other human activities.
  • Pollution: Pollution from pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals including fertilisers, can harm Butterfly Orchids.
  • Climate change: Climate change is causing changes in temperature and rainfall patterns that can harm Butterfly Orchids which are typically found at higher elevations.
  • Overcollection: Butterfly Orchids are sometimes collected for their flowers. This can lead to a decline in populations.

Conservation Efforts

There are a number of conservation efforts underway to protect Butterfly Orchids. These efforts include:

  • Creating protected areas: Protected areas are designated areas of land that are set aside for conservation. These areas provide a safe haven for Butterfly Orchids and other wildlife.
  • Restoring habitats: Habitats that have been damaged or destroyed can be restored. This helps to create more suitable habitat for Butterfly Orchids.
  • Raising awareness: Raising awareness about the threats facing Butterfly Orchids can help to encourage people to take action to protect them.

By working together, we can help to ensure that Butterfly Orchids continue to thrive for generations to come.

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