This tuberous perennial herb requires warm, dry conditions and is often found in tightly grazed chalk and limestone grassland on S.-facing slopes. It also occurs on sandy and gravelly soils in river meadows and on sand dunes. Lowland.
The spectacular decline of this species has been well-documented. Losses have been largely due to changes in agricultural practices, such as ploughing and the cessation of grazing, and through habitat destruction by building and quarrying. Recent molecular studies indicate that it may be more appropriately treated under Neotinea (Bateman et al., 1997).
European Temperate element.
Light (Ellenberg): 8
Moisture (Ellenberg): 4
Reaction (Ellenberg): 8
Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 2
Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0
January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 3.5
July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 15.7
Annual Precipitation (mm): 777
Height (cm): 15
Perennation - primary
Life Form - primary
Clonality - primary
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 265
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0
Atlas Change Index: -1.77
Scarce Atlas Account
Orchis ustulata L.
Confined to base-rich substrates, this is a plant of short, well-grazed limestone and chalk downland turf, particularly where there is a warm and sunny, more or less southerly, aspect, It often grows in association with Orchis morio as well as with other small herbs such as Anthyllis vulneraria, Gentianella spp., Polygala spp., Sanguisorba minor, Primula veris and Rhinanthus minor. It is not a strong competitor and may eventually be shaded out if the habitat is left ungrazed, although there are instances where plants have survived for considerable periods in quite tall meadowland.
Reproduction is by seed, but up to ten years may elapse before maturity and flowering. Further reproduction can occur through the mature plant's formation of secondary rhizomes, with small clusters of plants resulting.
The number of populations has decreased in the last fifty years mainly through adverse agricultural practices, such as ploughing, failure to maintain suitable grazing regimes, and the use of artificial fertilisers and herbicides. Encroachment by building and destruction of sites through quarrying have also contributed to the loss. It is now a very scarce plant although in Wiltshire it can occur in populations of considerable size; one of these is thought to be amongst the largest still surviving in western Europe. For a summary of the results of a detailed survey of its British distribution, see Foley (1992).
O. ustulata is found throughout most of central Europe and eastwards to beyond the Urals. It extends northwards to southern Scandinavia and southwards to the Mediterranean.
In southern England there occurs a form which flowers in July, much later than the normal late-May, but is otherwise doubtfully distinct from it. It is usually found in quite separate populations from the normal form and its origins are obscure, although there may be an ecological influence. It is also known from Europe where it has been described as subsp. aestivalis and has recently been studied in detail (Kümpel & Mrkvicka 1990). The totally white-flowered var. albiflora occurs very rarely in Britain.
M. J. Y. Foley
Atlas text references
1986. Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols.
1991. Wild orchids of Dorset.
1965. Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 1. 2 vols.
1991. The orchids of Suffolk.
1994. Scarce plants in Britain.