Lesser Butterfly Orchid - Platanthera bifolia - Hebrides Wildflowers

Heath Spooted Orchid - Tolsta Head

Lesser Butterfly Orchids
This tiny orchid is quite rare but is very delicate and beautiful and was in recently years been a wildflower plant that affords a priority for conservation action.

Lesser Butterfly orchid flowers bloom in a long, loose, cylindrical spike. They have lovely pale yellowy cream flowers, sometimes almost a greenish white.

Although in decline and a little more rare than some of the other orchids, the Lesser Butterfly orchids can be seen here in The Western Isles. These lovely hebridean wildflowers show their heads occasionally in The Isle of Harris.

The stems reach up to 10 inches in height although the one pictured here was actually only about 6 inches high

Stronghold Now is The Western Isles
Once seen throughout the UK, its stronghold now is Western Scotland, particularly The Western Isles, The Uists now have quite a few of this lovely orchid species.

Protected by Law
All wild orchids are protected by law If You remove or disturb the ground - you can be fined or imprisoned - or both. If you are wanting to move them you need to get a licence from the local council.



Old legend surrounding the lesser butterfly orchid
An old legend has it that Jesus was praying the night before his crucifixion. Angels came down to comfort him, placing themselves in lesser butterfly orchid’s flowers. In memory of that the lesser butterfly orchid’s flower is still in the shape of an angel, shining white in the twilight on summer nights and emitting its strong, perfumed aroma.


Click pictures below for larger photographs
Damp Grassy or Heathery Areas
These tiny orchids are to be found in damp, grassy or heathery areas or sometimes along the edge of ditches or even on roadside verges. There are usually up to 25 white flowers tinged with yellow-green in a slim flower spike

Each flower is from 10-18 mm. This orchid is really quite exotic looking with its delicate creamy flowers

The long slender downward curving, spur that carries the nectar flows out behind each little flower of the Lesser Butterfly Orchid. The flowers lengthy central lip is flanked on both sides by a single pointed spreading petal. It is topped by a delicate loose hood of petals and sepals.

The upper sepal and petals form a loose triangular hood above the pollinia, which lie parallel and close together, obscuring the opening into the spur.

Heath Spotted Orchid - Hebrides Wildflowers

Similar Orchid - The Greater Butterfly Orchid - Platanthera chlorantha
There is also a similar Orchid - The Greater Butterfly Orchid, below I have listed a few pointers that might help you distinguish between the two wildflowers

How to Tell them Apart

Greater Butterfly Orchid is Taller
There is another orchid the Greater Butterfly Orchid that can occasionally be seen on the islands. The two orchids are very similar in looks, except that the Greater Butterfly Orchid is altogether a taller plant reaching up to 18inches.

Throats and Pollinia Differ
There are other differences between these two orchids and the lesser butterfly orchid can be identified by looking into the "throat" or spur of the flower. The throat is narrow and closed, with the two pollinia (egg-shaped masses or clumps of pollen) lying parallel and close together. (whereas in the Greater Butterfly Orchid the pollen masses converge ). The spike is also narrower in overall appearance, and in general usually the individual plants are smaller than those of the Greater Butterfly Orchid

Lesser Butterfly Orchid.

Flowers are Whiter
The flowers on the Lesser Butterfly Orchid are generally whiter than Greater Butterfly Orchid

Different Insects Pollinate the Two Individual Types of Orchid
Different types of insect pollinate these two orchids which means that they must smell differently to the insects, although you wont be able to detect the scent difference. Night flying moths particularly like the Lesser Butterfly Orchid, they are attracted by the scent which is strongest in the evening

Greater Butterfly Orchid - Known as Night Violets
Greater Butterfly-orchids used to be called quite fittingly " night violets"

Lesser Butterfly Orchid More Tolerant of Acid
The Lesser butterfly orchid is altogether more tolerant of acid conditions than the Greater Butterfly Orchid and these tiny lesser butterfly orchids can often be found on the grasslands, moors, woods, pastures and heaths and boggy marshy ground, even by ditches.

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