Frog Orchid

Latin name: Dactylorhiza viridis

Family: Orchidaceae

Frog orchids are masters of camouflage. They can easily be over-looked as their flowering spike only grows to between 4 and 20 cm tall and their colouring perfectly matches the grasses and other wild flowers that grow with it. However, once you have found one and ‘get your eye in’ you may see hundreds! The best time to see it in flower in the Dales is July to August. This species was previously known as Coeloglossum viride. Its Latin name changed in 2004 after scientists at the Natural History Museum, London and the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew made new discoveries about its genetic relationships with other orchids. However, many field botanists will continue to use the old name for convenience, at least for the time being.

Frog orchids are locally frequent throughout Britain and Ireland. They are native to a range of limestone habitats such as calcareous grasslands, on the vegetated clints of limestone pavement, roadsides and quarries in limestone areas between sea level and 915 m. In the Yorkshire Dales National Park we are fortunate to have quite extensive areas of these habitats in the South of the Park. Frog orchids have been recorded on suitable habitats in Upper Wharfedale, Malhamdale, Ribblesdale, Chapel-le-Dale and Dentdale. Smaller populations have also been recorded in Wensleydale.

In 2011 and 2012, experienced local naturalists and YDNPA surveyors teamed up with the Botanical Society the British Isles (BSBI), to contribute towards their Threatened Plants Project nationally. We were delighted to find this rare species alive and well on a number of sites in the Dales and spotted some previously unrecorded sites too. This survey work will continue as part of our on-going wildlife conservation work to implement the Local Biodiversity Action Plan.

At risk?

C. viride has declined considerably, particularly in central England and East Anglia. Many losses occurred before 1930, but have continued since then, and are largely due to the ploughing and improvement of pastures. Its status on the Vascular Plant Red Data List for Great Britain (2005) is Vulnerable. It is a UKBAP priority species and is a Local BAP species in Nature in the Dales: 2020 Vision. The best way to conserve this species is to maintain or restore traditional pasture management which involves no fertiliser, no herbicide and only moderate grazing levels. But first we need to have a current picture of its local distribution.

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Wharfedale in Yorkshire is a valley favoured by nature and enriched by romance. From 'Wharfedale' by Ella Pontefract & Marie Hartley

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