Have you seen Britain’s rarest plants? The country’s 11 most endangered have been named

The Ghost Orchid is Britain's most endangered plant. It was last seen in 2009 in a Herefordshire woodland

The Ghost Orchid is Britain's most endangered plant. It was last seen in 2009 in a Herefordshire woodland

The Ghost Orchid is Britain’s most endangered plant. It was last seen in 2009 in a Herefordshire woodland

An orchid that hasn’t been seen since 2009, a plant with 200 purple flowers on its stem and a yellow shoot that can’t use sunlight to make food have been named among the UK’s rarest flora.

British charity Plantlife has identified Britain’s 11 rarest plants in a campaign to raise awareness of their demise.

Conservation efforts have so far focused on encouraging councils to cut roadside verges less often to allow endangered plants to go to seed, as well as encouraging Brits to look out for the elusive flora. 

The rarest plant in the UK is the Ghost Orchid, which was believed to be extinct for 23 years before being spotted in a Herefordshire woodland in 2009. Its spooky white flower hasn’t been seen in the country since.

‘It lives underground feeding off rotting leaves in very dark woodland and produces a pale flower,’ said Plantlife expert Dr Trevor Dines.

‘It’s so rare as it’s very sensitive to disturbance trampling and nitrogen deposition from rain. It needs to be a very very cold winter for it to appear.’

The Yellow Birds-nest is Britain's 11th most endangered plant. It is found growing among leaf litter in shaded woodland areas

The Yellow Birds-nest is Britain's 11th most endangered plant. It is found growing among leaf litter in shaded woodland areas

The Yellow Birds-nest is Britain’s 11th most endangered plant. It is found growing among leaf litter in shaded woodland areas

The Twinflower is the UK's ninth most endangered plant and a relic of the ice age

The Twinflower is the UK's ninth most endangered plant and a relic of the ice age

The Twinflower is the UK’s ninth most endangered plant and a relic of the ice age

Britain’s second rarest is the Red Helleborine, a woodland orchid that grows a 17-flower 23 inch stem.

A loss of dark woodland habitat and its pollinators has left the species in trouble, according to Plantlife, and caused its population to tumble.

The Spreading Bellflower, known from only 37 places in the Welsh borders and west Midlands, is Britain’s third most endangered.

Its bright purple flowers used to appear in woodland edges and roadsides from July to November every year, but since woodland coppicing and hedge laying was reduced the plant’s numbers have plummeted.

In the forest of Dean, Trevor only managed to find five plants despite a year of searching.

Crested Cow-wheat, which has dazzling pink flowers, is the country's fourth most endangered plant, according to Plantlife. It now only grows in meadows

Crested Cow-wheat, which has dazzling pink flowers, is the country's fourth most endangered plant, according to Plantlife. It now only grows in meadows

Crested Cow-wheat, which has dazzling pink flowers, is the country’s fourth most endangered plant, according to Plantlife. It now only grows in meadows

The Cotswold Pennycress is unique to that area of the UK

The Cotswold Pennycress is unique to that area of the UK

The Spreading Bellflower is Britain's third most endangered flower

The Spreading Bellflower is Britain's third most endangered flower

Above are two of the UK’s most endangered flowers. The Cotswold Pennycress (left) is the fifth most endangered and the Spreading Bellflower (right) is the third most endangered

‘It comes and goes but the seed will be in the soil,’ he said. ‘If there’s a disturbance it will come up again’.

Crested Cow-wheat, which sprouts bright purple flowers with yellow lips every year in rocky hillside meadows and roadsides, was next on the list.

The plant has been restricted to roadsides in recent years after overgrazing forced it from meadows and woodland management pushed it out of its old home.

The Meadow Clary, which produces towers of purple flowers, declined in the 1950s when it was smothered by other plants when there was less animal grazing.

It is now seen in 21 areas in southern England, where it was probably accidentally re-introduced from wild seed packets.

The Lady Orchid, which has been disappearing from the edge of Britain's woodlands, has stunning pink flowers

The Lady Orchid, which has been disappearing from the edge of Britain's woodlands, has stunning pink flowers

The Lesser Butterfly-orchid is one of several endangered plants that grows in meadows

The Lesser Butterfly-orchid is one of several endangered plants that grows in meadows

The Lesser Butterfly-orchid (right) has been lost from 75 per cent of its sites in the UK since records began. The Lady Orchid (left) grows on the edge of woodland and in grassland

The Lesser Butterfly-orchid is also struggling along with its hawkmoth pollinators, that help fertilise its seeds.

The flower has a spur at the back containing nectar which can only be pollinated by these big insects, and as they decline the plant continues to struggle.

The Yellow Birds-nest, a plant that can’t make food from sunlight, has been labelled the 11th most endangered in the UK.

Only growing in dark leaflitter, it relies on fungus to provide its food. The iconic shoots, that look a bit like bishops’ hooks, began to decline in the 1930s due to a loss of its vital woodland habitats. 

The One-flowered Wintergreen grows in pine forests

The One-flowered Wintergreen grows in pine forests

The Meadow Clary, marked as Britain's seventh most endangered plant, grows in Oxfordshire, the Chilterns and the south Downs

The Meadow Clary, marked as Britain's seventh most endangered plant, grows in Oxfordshire, the Chilterns and the south Downs

The One-flowered Wintergreen (left) grows in pine forests while the Meadow Clary (right) prefers open meadows

The Lesser Butterfly-orchid, seen growing here in a meadow, is Britain's tenth most endangered plant. It grows thick stems that produce a head of pink flowers

The Lesser Butterfly-orchid, seen growing here in a meadow, is Britain's tenth most endangered plant. It grows thick stems that produce a head of pink flowers

The Lesser Butterfly-orchid, seen growing here in a meadow, is Britain’s tenth most endangered plant. It grows thick stems that produce a head of pink flowers

Many of these plants are so endangered due to their specialist nature.

‘Some of us are very gregarious and we go everywhere. We love travelling and exploring and seeing the world. Other people are very conservative in their life and only like living in a particular range of conditions, and not going outside and eating certain meals. The same is with plants,’ said Trevor.

‘Some have a wide ecological tolerance so they can occupy lots of areas in Britain, but these are very very rare – they can only occupy certain ecological conditions.

‘Crested Cow-wheat, for example, that’s a road verge plant found in Essex on a couple of road verges.

‘If they’ve been mown too often then the plant doesn’t have a chance to set seed and has now disappeared. A subtle change in management can stop these plants from completely disappearing.

‘The Meadow Clary, and Lesser Butterfly-orchid, also all occur on verges so it shows how important it is to manage them well.’

UK drinks company Fentimans has launched a menu of cocktails, inspired by the colours and flavours of the rarest plants, to help raise awareness.

The Save the Botanicals menu will be launched over the Easter bank holiday at bars in Sheffield, Manchester, Bristol, Edinburgh and London.

A spokesperson for Fentimans said: ‘We realise there’s a vast amount of plants out there that are under threat and require our help

‘We have partnered with PlantLife and some of the UK’s best bars to raise awareness of the country’s most endangered botanicals through a series of specially curated cocktails, all inspired by these rare species.’ 

The UK’s 11 most endangered plants 

The plant was last seen in 2009 in a wood

The plant was last seen in 2009 in a wood

The plant was last seen in 2009 in a wood

1. Ghost Orchid

Status: Critically Endangered 

Best time to see: Unknown

Habitat: Beech wood

Where?: Herefordshire

This orchid was thought extinct until it was spotted in Herefordshire in 2009. It usually grows underground in deep leaf litter only rarely popping its white flower above the surface to attract pollinators.

 

The Red Helleborine grows in southern England and is best seen in May, June and July

The Red Helleborine grows in southern England and is best seen in May, June and July

The Red Helleborine grows in southern England and is best seen in May, June and July

2. Red Helleborine

Status: Critically Endangered

Best time to see: May, June and July

Habitat: Dark woodland

Where?: Southern England

This orchid grows a stem up to 60cm in height that can carry up to 17 flowers that are a deep shade of pink. Plantlife UK said it may have become rare due to a decline in the population of its pollinators and the right habitat for them.

 

Spreading Bellflowers are only found in 37 places in the UK

Spreading Bellflowers are only found in 37 places in the UK

Spreading Bellflowers are only found in 37 places in the UK

3. Spreading Bellflower

Status: Endangered

Best time to see: July to November

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Habitat: Woodland

Where?: Welsh borders and west Midlands

The Spreading Bellflower is only found in 37 10-km square areas in the UK, but in very small numbers. It is threatened by changes in woodland management, such as the end of coppicing and other disturbances, and an increased use of herbicides on roadsides and railway banks.

 

4. Crested Cow-wheat

The Crested Cow-wheat grows in East Anglia and other parts of the UK

The Crested Cow-wheat grows in East Anglia and other parts of the UK

The Crested Cow-wheat grows in East Anglia and other parts of the UK

Status: Endangered

Best time to see: July and August

Habitat: Rocky Hillside meadows and roadsides

Where?: East Anglia and other areas

The plant grows to 15 to 40cm high and produces pink flowers with yellow lips. It grows in meadows, competing with scores of other plants to attract insects.

 

5. Cotswold Pennycress

Status: Vulnerable and Near-Threatened

Best time to see: April and May

Habitat: Farmland

Where?: Cotswolds

It sprouts mainly in the Cotswolds, and can be seen growing out of hedges, walls and banks.

Ploughing, the levelling of rough land, increased use of fertilisers and herbicides and neglecting marginal land have all led to the plants gradual demise. It is often choked by thicker smothering plants.

 

The Lady Orchid, which has stunning pink flowers, grows in Kent and Oxfordshire

The Lady Orchid, which has stunning pink flowers, grows in Kent and Oxfordshire

The Lady Orchid, which has stunning pink flowers, grows in Kent and Oxfordshire

6. Lady Orchid

Status: Critical

Best time to see: April, May, June

Habitat: Edges of woodland and grassland

Where?: Kent and Oxfordshire

This purple-coloured orchid produces large stems of 200 flowers that grow up to 80cm in height. It can be seen growing on the edges of woodland, and sometimes in open grassland.

This meadow plant has been in decline since less land was used for grazing meaning it was smothered by others

This meadow plant has been in decline since less land was used for grazing meaning it was smothered by others

This meadow plant has been in decline since less land was used for grazing meaning it was smothered by others

7. Meadow Clary

Status: Vulnerable/Near Threatened

Best time to see: Spring and Summer

Habitat: Grassland

Where?: Oxfordshire, Chilterns and north and south Downs

This plant declined before 1950 when less land was used for grazing and it was smothered by other coarser plants. It is now found in just 21 areas in the south of England, where it was probably re-introduced through ‘wild flower seed’ mixtures.

The sun loving plant grows in open grassland, and along south-facing hedge banks and the southern edges of woodland.

 

The One-flowered Wintergreen grows in damp, shaded pine forests

The One-flowered Wintergreen grows in damp, shaded pine forests

The One-flowered Wintergreen grows in damp, shaded pine forests

8. One-flowered Wintergreen

Status: Vulnerable/ Near Threatened

Best time to see: May, June and July

Habitat: Pine forests

Where?: North-east Scotland

This single-flowered plant grows in damp, shaded areas of pine forests. It is clearly visible against the dark soil and rotting pine leaves. The white flower faces downwards from the end of a tall stem, looking a bit like an umbrella

 

The Twinflower is a relic from the ice age

The Twinflower is a relic from the ice age

The Twinflower is a relic from the ice age

9. Twinflower

Status: Unknown

Best time to see: Spring and Summer

Habitat: Woodland

Where?: Scotland

An arctic-alpine plant that is a relic of the ice age, It has two pink bell-like flowers on a slender stem and a thicker stem below that creeps along the ground forming small mats. The Twinflower is considered one of our smallest and most delicate native flowers.

It now grows in just 50 unrelated sites following changes in woodland management.

 

The white-flower orchid has been lost from 75 per cent of the countryside

The white-flower orchid has been lost from 75 per cent of the countryside

The white-flower orchid has been lost from 75 per cent of the countryside

10. Lesser Butterfly-orchid

Status: Vulnerable/Near Threatened

Best time to see: June & July

Habitat: Woodland, grassland, heathland and wetland

Where?: England, Cardiganshire in Wales, and parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland

This white-flower orchid has been lost from 75 per cent of the English countryside since records began. Growing a 30cm-high stem, the plant is now scattered across open areas and those with acidic soil. The best chance of seeing it is in the Cae Blaen Dyffryn Nature Reserve, Wales, which hosts a population that can exceed 3,000 in good years.

The orchids decline may be linked to a symbiotic fungus it depends on to grow, according to Plantlife UK, which is very sensitive to fertilisers and fungicides. Their use on open grassland may have played a part in the plants march towards extinction.

 

The plant prefers Beech and Hazel woods

The plant prefers Beech and Hazel woods

The plant prefers Beech and Hazel woods

11. Yellow Birds-nest

Status: Unknown

Best time to see: All year

Habitat: Beech and Hazel woodland

Where?: UK-wide

The whole plant is a yellow-brown colour, and tends to grow in leaf litter in shaded woodland. However, it began to decline after 1930, possibly due to changes in woodland management, overgrazing and habitat fragmentation.

Source: Plantlife UK 

 

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