Alison Jane Harley

- botanical and floral artist -


Until early 2020 the only orchid I was really aware of was the Moth orchid (Phalaenopsis) which I had only become familiar with because it was one of my studies for the RBGE diploma. I later painted a Lady’s slipper (Cypripedium) growing at the Glasgow Botanic Gardens. They are both very different but each one I would have confidently identified as orchids.

On a recent walk through a wilderness area close to home, I discovered several plants I didn’t recognise and it certainly didn’t cross my mind they could be orchids as they were completely different from the elegant and exotic looking specimens I had previously diligently studied and painted.

Further investigation was required. Over the next few days I realised what I had found camouflaged in the wild verges of the pathways were four species of the Orchidaceae family.

Lizard orchid (Himantoglossum hircinum)

Traipsing through a couple of relatively undisturbed areas I believed I’d stumbled across a whole new undiscovered collection of four orchids, thriving in the peace and quiet of the verges, none of which remotely resemble the polished shiny specimens mentioned above.

I momentarily daydreamed about being the new Linnaeus (with an H) of the twenty first century and felt like the queen of the local wild orchids. They looked quite ‘smart but casual’ demanding closer inspection, which told me here is something quite special even if it turned out they are not particularly rare.

So, in addition to the Phalaenopsis and Cypripedium, my repertoire of orchids has now expanded to include those below:-

Bee orchid (Ophrys apifera)
Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis)
Lady orchid (Orchis purpurea)
Lizard orchid (Himantoglossum hircinum)

I wasn’t even a fan of the exotic orchids to be honest but once you have spent hours in front of one observing every detail you tend to become very attached even if it is a love hate relationship.

The Lizard orchid is quite unruly and messy in habit when flowering and it is not until you look very closely that you see the unusual purple spots on otherwise insignificant straggly flowers.

The Bee is the least common among my finds as I have only come across two – both in a more open, sunnier area. It’s a little more chic due to the little pouch resembling a bee. Probably why it is so named.

I now love orchids. I thought I would even go so far as to say I prefer those growing in the wild as they are prettier and less flamboyant than the Phalaenopsis or Cypripedium, but then when I take another I look at these ‘shinier’ varieties l know I really like them too. They are all so different that it is difficult to believe they are from the same Orchidaceae family.

It may be some time before I tackle a sketch of my new found wild species as the individual flowers are so numerous, tiny and intricate – so meanwhile I am happy to be an avid orchid appreciator.

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  1. Jill 11th August 2021

    So happy to have found your website, Alison, and love reading your stories here. I also am just as thrilled to have been with you on one of your wonderful walks together and for you to show us a wild orchid. Who would have thought? Thanks for making me look on walks now with my eyes more open to the beauty of the wild. Looking forward to many more lovely posts like this.
    Jill x

  2. Jill 11th August 2021

    Gosh, and I completely forgot to mention the most important part – I absolutely adore your beautiful artwork of the Lady’s Slipper. You’re so talented!

    • alison 11th August 2021 — Post author

      Jill thank you so much for your lovely comments I am thrilled to bits! You spotted the Lizard orchid then? It will be a while before I can tackle that one. I have thoroughly enjoyed our nature walks too and am looking forward to the next one.
      Alison x

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