Wenlock Edge, Shropshire: There were masses of southern marsh orchids, many of which were in the early stages of flower opening like a slow-motion firework display
The southern marsh orchids, Dactylorhiza praetermissa, are almost knee high, with apple-green leaves, thick hollow stems and a spearhead of extraordinary purple-pink, cryptically lined flowers. They have suddenly and ceremoniously materialised in the abandoned field like ambassadors from another planet. Despite their indolence, everything about them – their form, colour, identity, presence, future – is mysterious. They stand among us, splendidly alien, as if they’ve entered consciousness from a terra incognita outside our everyday experience. These are not just flowers but an event with a magenta aura.
Only last week I wandered into this field, really just a fenced-off patch of limestone quarry spoil, to check on what might be flowering. In some years there are dense colonies of common spotted orchids and one year there were dozens of bee orchids, but the larger groups of orchid never last long and some years they are few and far between. I was beginning to think this year would be a poor show until I came across a couple of big southern marsh orchids, opening from places that had been really wet all winter.