This uninspiring orchid may not be colourful, but it is extraordinary.
The bird’s nest orchid Neottia nidus – avis gets its name from the tatty shape of the root ball that looks like a bird’s nest . It gets all its nutrients from a fungal association with the soil and it needs no green chlorophyll at all. It makes no leaves and the flower comes straight up out of the earth in the late spring.
If the spike is obstructed when it is about to emerge, it can apparently flower and set seed underground, which is not fully understood and all the more disturbing for it!
It can be pollinated by a range of insects including very small creatures that can crawl over the flowers and carry away the pollen.
It is often found ( as this one was) close to the flowering stems of the large white helleborine Cephalanthera damasonium which also grow under beech trees in leaf litter.
The bird’s nest orchid and the large white helleborine both need nutrients from fungus that can only grow in deep humous rich leaf litter and so can sometimes be found in the same beech woods. The helleborine has green leaves and stem, but can tolerate deep shade, because of the extra food it’s fungal association gives it. The pure white flowers seem not open fully, but that is an illusion . Once one starts to look for them, at this time of year, their white petals flare up under the dark canopy of the beech trees and they can be surprisingly common.