Green-winged Orchids are named for the broad greenish veins that mark the sepals and appear most years at the end of April, flowering through to early June (though these particular plants flowered in mid-April: April 2007 was both the driest and warmest ever recorded in the UK). Dependent on unimproved pastures or ancient hay meadows, this vibrant plant has declined across much of its range because of habitat loss, but where it does occur colonies can be huge with hundreds of spikes on show.
Most Green-winged Orchids carry 5-12 flowers which normally vary from lilac to dark purple, though (according to WILDGuides’ British Orchids) most populations will have a few pinkish plants like the one below scattered through them – about 1% of plants are pure white. Superficially similar to the Early Purple Orchid, a quick check of the basal leaves will usually separate the two species – they are unmarked in Green-wingeds and heavily spotted in Early Purples (a few are also unspotted, but of course still lack the green veins).
These Green-winged Orchids were photographed at the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust Reserve of Clattinger Farm (part of the Cotswold Water Park) which is also an excellent site for the beautiful Snakeshead Fritillary Fritillaria meleagris which flower at about the same time but go over much more quickly.