Lesser Butterfly-orchid

Latin name: Platanthera bifolia

Family: Orchidaceae

The best time to see the beautiful lesser butterfly-orchid flower in the Yorkshire Dales is in June and early July when it could be found on a wide range of open habitats such as heathy pastures, grasslands (including meadows) and moorland up to 365m above sea level. Butterfly-orchids are pollinated at night by moths such as the Silver Y moth, the large elephant hawk-moth and the small elephant hawk-moth. After flowering, apparently just one mature seed capsule can contain up to 8,000 seeds. This species is easily confused with the Greater butterfly-orchid as the size of both can be variable. However, the lesser butterfly-orchid has parallel rather than divergent pollinia.

In the UK this orchid has a scattered natural distribution. Its stronghold is in the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland. In the Yorkshire Dales National Park there are a small number of historic records in mid-Wharfedale, Upper Littondale and Upper Ribblesdale. However, we feel that there is really good potential for this wildflower in the Park and hope that with the help of local naturalists and targeted survey effort we may discover more sites. We hope to learn from work that has been carried out on this species in the Cairngorms National Park.

At risk?

Lesser butterfly-orchids have suffered a considerable decline, with many losses in England occurring before 1930. In the lowlands it has been lost through drainage, woodland disturbance and agricultural intensification, while upland populations have also been lost as a result of increased grazing. 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. It is said that moths are efficient transporters of pollen over long distances and it is hoped that this will help the populations to be more resilient if they experience habitat fragmentation. Of course this also means that healthy populations of these moths are essential for the conservation of this species. We hope to learn from work that has been carried out on this species in the Cairngorms National Park.

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The unfolding of Grass Wood throughout the year is a story of rich fulfilment. From 'Wharfedale' by Ella Pontefract & Marie Hartley

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