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Lot & Dordogne South West France

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Wild Flowers of the Lot & Dordogne

Did you know you are in one of the best places in Europe, if the World to spot wild flowers?  Due to the lack of any heavy industry, small-scale agriculture and very low population, the Lot and Dordogne have an abundance of wild flowers which are all just about to come to life along our hedgerows, gardens and woodland.


Even if you’re not a keen gardener I challenge anyone to look at least some of these flowers and not feel how amazing Mother Nature is at producing something so beautiful purely to attract insects.  


To help you spot them I’ve enlisted the help of local enthusiast to help me put together a rogue’s gallery. There are bound to be hundreds more out there that we haven’t shown, so if you’ve got any pictures please send them over and we’ll add them to the gallery…or perhaps you’ve seen a flower you can’t identify…then send that over as well and between us we might be able to find an answer.


Now that this seemingly unending winter is on its way out, sit back and watch the kaleidoscope of colour unfurl all around us!

Did You Know?

Orchids are temperamental if the conditions are not perfect for their flower that year then they will just wait until it is right. Wild specimens have been recorded as not flowering for as much as 9 consecutive years!

The Early Purple and the Green Winged Orchid are quite similar and can be found at the same time of year starting NOW and in the same environment However, there is an easy way to tell the tw0 apart.


Firstly the Early Purple normally has a wonderful spotted leaf (but it can be unspotted too) and secondly the flower of the Green Winged orchid has a green or bronze stripe to the outer sepal (the bit of the flower that was the bud) while the Early Purple has clear purple sepals



It likes both grassland and woodland as well as chalk, limestone and clay soils. The species does not colonise new sites easily so look on ancient ground rather than new woodland. Look on road verges and banks with woodland behind or near.

Early purple (2) (1)

The Early Purple Orchid

(orchis mascula)

The Green Winged Orchid can be found growing in large numbers and has a deep purple colour (but can also be pinkish or occasionally whitish) but it will always have green or bronze veins on the sepals that form the hood effect over the flower.


Habitat: It likes to grow in old fields and short grassland, with poor quality soil that hasn't been improved with fertilisers. It is not keen on shade so will not be found deep in woods but do look at road side verges and scrub land

Green Winged Orchid (Anacamptis morio)

Green Winged Orchid (1)

This sweet little orchid is on the endangered flowers list in the UK, but here France it can be found quite commonly.


There are actually 2 forms of the Burnt Orchid - the early form is out now April / May & the late flowering is found as late as July -they do not differ in appearance. Seldom more than 15 cm tall, but easy to spot with its redish- burgundy buds and white lips contrashing against scrub land.


Habitat: It rarely colonises new sites so look for it on ancient ground which hasn't been disturbed for years (centuries) Look in short low quality grass - they do seem to like the sun so look on road side banks in spots that get a good bit sun during the day.

Burnt orchid

(Neotiea ustulata)

Burnt Orchid Lady Orchid detail

Big and showy a stunning and sturdy orchid. From 20-50 cms tall, its so obvious you can actually spot this one whilst driving.


The Lady orchid is one of the "mankin" type of orchids meaning that when you look at the individual flowers they look like a little human. The lady gets her common name because her human form is like a lady wearing a bonnet and large frilly dress. !


Habitat: Woodland clearings and where paths and roads back onto woods, it likes well drained soils so I often find them on banks in sunny/ half shade locations

Lady Orchid

(Orchis purpurea)

What a cutie - it has a quirky and exotic looking flower with a spider monkey-like appearance and bright colours.


The flower heads open in reverse to other orchids starting at the top buds and opening down giving a jumbled and somewhat random appearance to the flower.

Between 15cm and 30cm tall


Habitat: I've found them on both East and South facing banks just under trees and shrubs giving some cover from all day sun.

Monkey Orchid

(Orchis simian)

An elegant and striking orchid it's hard to miss it has pure white flowers, a splash of bright yellow on the lip and long pointed leaves alternating up the stem. Can be small and wispy or huge and sturdy, from 15cm to 60cm.


Habitat: Abundant and everywhere, open areas in woodland is its ideal habitat but again here in France that's often road or path side with the woods just behind.

Sword-leaved Helleborine (Cephalanthera longifolia)

Monkey Orchid 10.5.13 Sword Leaved Helleborine 2

This is one of the easiest orchids to identify as the small flowers have a lip and 3 larger pink outer sepals which mimic a bee feeding on a flower.


Habitat: Abundant this year especially, they can be found in dry, open grassy slopes usually on limestone

Bee Orchid (Ophrys Apifera)

bee orchid

Greater Butterfly Orchid (Plantanthera chlorantha)

The Bird's-nest orchid is a very strange plant: leafless and without the green chlorophyll of other plants that enable them to gain energy from sunlight through photosynthesis, it grows as a parasite on the roots of trees, gaining its nutrients from its host.



Usually found in woodland, particularly under Beech trees, this almost sickly looking, yellow plant appears from May to July

Birds Nest Orchid

(Neottia nidus-avis)

An extremely elegant orchid with white/cream and sometimes yellow tipped flowers held on tall lean spikes. This flower also has a really neat ability and has evolved to "glow in the dark" as it's trying to attract moths for pollination.


It is almost identical to the Lesser butterfly Orchid - the easiest way to tell one from the other is to look at the parts that are holding the pollen (the pollinium). The illustration to the right come from the wonderful field guide reference book called "Orchids of Britain and Ireland A field and Site Guide by Anne & Simon Harrap".


Size is varied and from 20 -  40 cm is normal, however I've found one this year that's got to be 55cm tall!


Habitat : loves the dappled shade of woodland edges or clearing

Greater Butterfly Orchid 2


Birds Nest Orchid

A highly distinctive wildflower with a pyramid shaped head of bright pink flowers. Like many orchids, it requires a specific fungus to be present in the soil in order to bloom.



Originally a flower of chalk and limestone grasslands, the pyramidal orchid has shown a penchant for more artificial environments in recent times. Colonies have even appeared along motorways and ring-roads, canals and marinas

Pyramidal Orchid

(Anacamptis pyramidalis)


The Tassel Hyacinth,is used extensive particularly in Italian and Greek cooking. The bulbs are boiled then pickled or preserved in oil. They are thought to stimulate the appetite and are also diuretic. Interestingly wild ones are preferred over cultivated ones.


It has a tuft of bright blue to violet-blue sterile flowers above brownish-green fertile flowers, which open from dark blue buds and tThe flower stem is 20–60 cm tall



It is found in rocky ground and cultivated areas, such as cornfields and vineyards

Tassel Hyacinth

(Muscari Comosum)

Tassel Hyacinth - Picture by Liz Otto

Picture by Liz Otto

Earlier in the year we had the lovely lady orchid in her dress. Now here's the male counterpart -  the Man Orchid; with a bobbly head or hood and the deep cut lower lip resembling little arms and legs the man orchid is unmistakable.


The flowers are commonly greenish yellow with red fringing, between 20 to 45 cm tall. I was lucky enough to find a pure yellow one in 2012



Found on well drained soil road side verges field margins and scrub grass land.

Man Orchid :

(Orchis anthropophors)

Man Orchid Yellow

A huge orchid often as much as a meter tall but can be as small as 25cm.


Easy ti identify as its not similar in look to any other orchids and with a little stretch of the imagination the flowers resemble a lizard, with a long curling tail and the shorter side lobes becoming the legs.  



Mostly found in open sunny situations on well draining soil

The Lizard Orchid: (Himantoglossum hircinum)

Lizard close up

Tall & sturdy with amazing colouration.


This is one that we don't get in the UK as it prefers a warmer climate but is wide spread and common across Europe


It is found in woodland, scrub, and grassy woodland clearings plus rocky terrain often on banks where tree roots are close to the surface.

Violet Limodore or violet birds nest orchid; (Limodorum abortivum)

Violet Limodorum 2

Rare orchid even here in France I only discovered 2 growing sites so far. A really spectacular orchid mauve and purple colouration and quite large size makes it really stand out amongst the grassy shrub.


Its one of the man orchids and has its name as its resembles a soldier, the sepals and the petals for a hood like affect or helmet and the lip is heavily split creating arms and legs.


Usually between 20 & 45cm tall


Its a little similar to the monkey orchid but the flowers open bottom to top and have a more regimented placement than the monkey.

Military orchid :

(Orchis militaris)

Military Orchid

This elegant and beautiful flower would send a UK botanist into raptures of joy. It's one of the rarest in Britain and is on the critically endangered list. However, here in France, with just a little bit of hedge crawling, you're likely to find one and its worth it.


Sometimes on a sturdy stem but more commonly fragile and whispy with flowers closer to pink than red. Deep inside the lip is textured with troughs and peaks, often yellow/orange.


Notoriously picky about its environment if the conditions are not perfect it just wont flower. It is a woodland orchid but too much shade will cause it to stop and wait underground for a better year.


So again look in dappled sun/shade road side and path side edges backing on to old woodland.

Red Helleborine : (Cephalanthera ruba )

Red Helleborine 3