Orchids have a particular fascination for people.

They are one of the largest groups of flowering plants with over 20,000 species worldwide.

Of these, 56 occur in this country and 26 have been recorded on the Island.

Sixteen of these species can be seen most years if you know where to look, a further four are very infrequently and six species are now considered extinct.

The three most likely to be seen at this time of the year are the common spotted-orchid, the pyramidal orchid, and the bee orchid.

The common spotted-orchid, as its name suggests, is the commonest and most widespread of our orchids and has spotted leaves.

It can be found in a wide variety of habitats from woodland to open chalk grassland and often on road verges.

The plant can grow up to 70cm tall and the flower spike consists of numerous pale lilac or pink flowers.

It thrives best in damp conditions. In fact, where it occurs with the closely related southern marsh orchid, it will readily hybridise and can produce some very vigorous and spectacular plants.

Back in 2002, the charity Plantlife ran a “County Flowers” campaign to choose a single plant species for each county in this country.

The flower chosen, by vote, for the Island was the pyramidal orchid. A very good choice, as it is a wonderful sight to see the bright pink flowers in large numbers on our chalk downs during June and July.

As it first opens the flower spike forms in a pyramid shape which gives it its name, but as more flowers open it becomes more spherical.

The third orchid you might come across at this time of the year is the bee orchid, probably the best known and loved of our orchids.

It is a very exotic looking flower which is always a joy find, even for seasoned botanists.

The flower has the appearance of a bumblebee, with a brown/maroon patterned lip and large pink sepals.

Bee orchids are most frequent on the downs right across the Island from Tennyson Down to Culver, but they can also be found in meadows, woodland clearings and even on garden lawns.

Those growing on the downs tend to be small with often only two flowers, whereas those in more sheltered sites can have up to 12 flowers on a spike.

Although the orchids mentioned here may appear to be quite common, all UK orchids are in decline, with some species critically endangered, mainly due to habitat destruction and degradation.

It is an offence to dig up wild orchids (and they are unlikely to survive anyway) or collect their seed.

As with all wild flowers, they look at their best growing in their natural environment where everyone can enjoy their beauty.