LESSER BUTTERFLY-ORCHID

Platanthera bifolia

(Formerly: Habenaria bifolia)
Orchid Family [Orchidaceae]

month8may month8jun month8june month8jul month8july

status
statusZnative
 
flower
flower8white
 
inner
inner8green
 
morph
morph8zygo
 
petals
petalsZ5
 
type
typeZspiked
 
type
typeZspurred
long
stem
stem8round
 
stem
stem8fluted
 
smell
smell8scent smell8perfume
scent

1st June 2004, Ireland. Photo: © Phil And Ann Farrer
Between 15 to 55cm high with less than six small stem leaves and two shiny-green, pointed basal leaves, which are shorter but broader particularly on the hill-form of the plant.


1st June 2004, Ireland. Photo: © Phil And Ann Farrer
About 25 well-separated white flowers which are tinged yellow-green in places. The flowers have two triangular white wings and a short greenish parallel tongue/lip, which look vaguely like a Small-white Butterfly, hence the moniker.


7th June 2009, Lot Valley, France. Photo: © Hester Coley
The hood is triangular and loose comprising an upper sepal and tow short white petals either side.


7th June 2009, Lot Valley, France. Photo: © Hester Coley
The opening into the spur behind the hood is obstructed by the pollinia, which present the yellow pollen to visiting insects. It is night-scented but the odorous compounds differ from those of the Greater Butterfly-Orchid. The pollinating insects are thus mainly moths such as the Pine Moth, Small Elephant Hawk-Moth and Elephant Hawk-Moth.


Easily mistaken for : Greater Butterfly-Orchid (Platanthera chlorantha) but that has the two pollinia further apart and splayed out sideways to each other rather than the strictly parallel pollinia of Lesser Butterfly Orchid, this last property being the main differentiating feature between the two.

Hybridizes with : Greater Butterfly-Orchid (Platanthera chlorantha) to produce Platanthera × hybrida.

Un-like Greater Butterfly-Orchid it will also grow in very acidic soils. It is found in grasslands, woods (especially of Beech in Southern England), up to 1200 feet in height on damp hill pastures, moorland, wet heaths, or tussocky marshy ground and near stream flushes which produce less acidic parts of bogs. Much more infrequently found on damp pastures on hills or in chalk grassland and deciduous woods. The spur at the rear of the flower is a long 13-23mm, but usually shorter than that of the 19-35mm of Greater Butterfly-Orchid.

The flower spike has 5-25 flowers (against the 10-40 of those of Greater Butterfly-Orchid. It is usually white-flowered, but if it is growing in a bog then the flowers will be greener.

The flowers smell more strongly (of vanilla) than do those of Greater Butterfly-Orchid.


  Platanthera bifolia  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Orchidaceae  

Distribution
 family8Orchid family8Orchidaceae

 BSBI maps
genus8Platanthera
Platanthera
(Butterfly-Orchids)

LESSER BUTTERFLY-ORCHID

Platanthera bifolia

(Formerly: Habenaria bifolia)
Orchid Family [Orchidaceae]