Hello there!  Perhaps this post seems a bit early;  but with all this cold weather and the various coronavirus restrictions, my mind is already fantasising about the coming spring.

When spring does arrive, I love to go out walking and looking for wildflowers.  As with many other nature lovers, I have a particular fascination with orchids (plants in the Orchidaceae family).

Green Winged Orchids (Anacamptis morio) flowering in Kent in May.

Here in Kent we have around 25 different species of native orchid so I’m fortunate to be in an excellent place for it! 

So, in this post I wanted to share three of my favourite species to spot in early spring (mid April to early May). 

So without further ado, here they are!

EARLY SPIDER ORCHID – Ophrys sphegodes

Let’s start with a positive story!

The Early Spider Orchid was until recently very rare in the UK.  This was mostly due to habitat destruction caused by agricultural practices.  

However, one unlikely site in Kent is now home to thousands of these amazing orchids.  The site is called Samphire Hoe and its soil is made up of of spoil-waste from the Channel Tunnel construction.  

This doesn’t sound very conducive to plant growth, but thankfully, orchids are amazing at thriving in poor soil. 

Early Spider Orchid (Ophrys sphegodes) flowering in Kent in late April.

This ability to tolerate growing conditions that other plants cannot is common among many orchids.  From the epiphytic orchids that grow on trees, to the parasitic orchids that grow in the dense shade beneath them, orchids can always be relied upon to find a very specific niche.

The Early Spider Orchid’s niche is in poor chalky soils with low water retention and low nitrogen turnover.  In these conditions, the grasses that surround the orchids stand no chance at outcompeting them!

Capturing a lone Early Spider Orchid flowering in its grassland niche.

The amazing Early Spider Orchid is still rare, but thanks to its establishment at Samphire Hoe and a few other sites, it can be found flowering along the south coast of England from the middle of April.

MONKEY ORCHID – Orchis simia

This is definitely the rarest orchid in today’s blog post.  It’s currently thought to grow on only three sites in the UK.  Thankfully, two of those sites are in Kent!

On the site that I have visited, it can be found growing in open grassland alongside the Early Purple and Green Winged Orchids.

As for its name, look at the Monkey Orchid’s flowers.  They look like little Monkeys with a pink head, arms, legs and… well yes, you can see.

A Monkey Orchid (Orchis simia) flowering in Kent in early May.

The Monkey Orchid starts to flower a little later than the Early Spider Orchid, towards the end of April and early May.  It enjoys a sunny site, but apparently can also be found growing in woodland if the trees aren’t too dense.

Photographing the Monkey Orchid in Kent at the beginning of May.

I really hope to see this beautiful little orchid increase in numbers over my lifetime.  Perhaps more importantly would be a spread in its geographical location.  

With only three sites in the UK, it is at significant risk of extinction in our country.  I hope to hear of it popping up on other sites over time, as orchids often do. 

LADY ORCHID – Orchis purpurea

This final species is a bit of a Kent speciality!  Meaning, although it is very rare in the UK, it can be found in abundance throughout Kent.

It thrives in woodland and especially on the sunny edges and open areas of wooded areas.  

Something which I find funny is that on at least one site in Kent, the Lady Orchid can be found growing right next to the Man Orchids (Orchis anthropophora).

The Lady Orchid (Orchis purpurea) flowering in Kent in late April.

I find Lady orchids very difficult to photograph.  This is mostly because of the contrast between the white petals and the dark flower buds.  The key I find is to avoid photographing them in bright sunlight and play around with exposure to avoid blowing out the highlights while still retaining some detail in the darker areas.

Here some Lady Orchids can be found growing alongside another of my favourite wildflowers, the Yellow Archangel (Lamium galeobdolon).


Well there you have it, three of my favourite early flowering orchids.  All of them can be found in Kent too!

I actually made a video with footage of these orchids as well as a few others.  I hope you enjoy watching it.

I’m working on another blog post and video for the later flowering orchids and am hoping to release it quite soon.  Please do join my newsletter if you want to get an alert when I release it.

Until then, happy photographing.  Spring will be here soon, so happy wildflower hunting too!

All the best, Joe.

Get email updates

Sign up below to receive news, tips and helpful stuff in your inbox.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Beatrice Cooper

    Are you doing any more walks this year?
    Virus permitting?

    1. Joe Vary

      Hi Beatrice,

      I’’m sorry for such a late reply. I somehow missed your message. Unfortunately I’ve had to cancel all of the wildflower walks this year due the the uncertainty with the virus. I’m hoping to get going again in early 2022.

      Most of the orchids flower between May and July so there aren’t many to see until then.

      If you’d like to get notifications when I release new course please do join my newsletter!

      All the best,

Leave a Reply