Britain's rarest flowers

Our countryside is home to a huge range of flowers, some much harder to find than others – here are five of Britain's rarest

10th January 2018
Lay's Slipper Orchid Cypripedium calceolus
1. Red Helleborine
Red Helleborine
The red Helleborine (Cephalanthera rubra) lives deciduous woodland ©Getty

An extremely endangered orchid, which is now only known to be at three sites in the UK. Inhabiting deciduous woodlands this orchid requires chalky alkaline soil.

Flowering at some point during May - July it has dark green leaves with 12 pink/purple flowers on one long spike. The Red helleborine is classified as critically endangered in Britain and methods of germination and propagation to conserve the species are currently being looked into.

Find out more about Red Helleborine

2. Starved wood sedge

Only two colonies of the starved wood sedge currently exist; in two secret locations in Surrey and Somerset where there are a total of around 60 plants. The condition of this grass-like plant has been classed as critical. With it’s long leaves and tall flowering stems it can easily be mistaken for common woodland grass.

Although it has never been common, the plant had declined to just one 15 years ago. A rare step has been taken by Plantlife, as they have reintroduced the plant to Charterhouse School in Surrey, where it was once found.

Due to the critical condition of the plant's existence, the organisation felt it would not survive if they didn’t throw it a lifeline. Since the reintroduction the plant is doing well in the school's woods.

Find out more about starved wood sedge.

3. Poppy
Changes in agriculture over the years have led to a dramatic fall in poppy numbers ©Getty

Poppies are colourful flowers with very delicate, tissue like petals. You are most likely to find them flowering from June – September, and they grow from 20-60cm high.

Although once very common flowers, the common red field poppy are now sadly under threat. The changes in agriculture over the years have meant that certain weed-killers have lead to a rapid decline in some flowers.

4. Ribbon-leaved water-plantain

Confined to just two locations in the UK, it can be found at a lack in Worcestershire and a drainage channel in Lincolnshire. It had recently been recorded at two other sites in the UK but has since disappeared from both of these.

The aquatic plants population changes throughout the year, with reasons for this being largely unknown. Most common throughout June and July the plant is now part of a species recovery programme, which looks at the feasibility of reintroducing the plant into previous sites.

Find our more about ribbon-leaved water-plantain 

5. Lady’s slipper orchid
Lay's Slipper Orchid Cypripedium calceolus
The Lady's Slipper Orchid's latin name is Cypripedium calceolus ©Getty

Once widespread in Europe and Asia, forest clearance and uprooting from orchid collectors have left this species almost completely wiped out in the 20th century.

Last May, the last remaining lady’s slipper orchid was given 24 hour police protection. This extremely rare, and beautifully striking plant blooms in purple and yellow and is around 12cm tall. The plant is also going to be security tagged to avoid anyone stealing a cutting, which alone can be worth up to £5000.

The highly valuable plant was declared extinct in 1917, but was then found by botanists and has been growing on a protected site for at least 100 years. Experts have tried to introduce the plant into other areas but none have flowered, although it is possible another is growing wild in the Yorkshire Dales.

Find out more about the lady's slipper orchid.

Looking for a slightly easier challenge this summer? Check out our guide the top 10 native wildflowers blooming in summer.


You are currently reading: Britain's rarest flowers - 10th January
Subscribe to BBC Countryfile Magazine today!

Choose a subscription offer to suit you and benefit from generous savings on the shop price, free UK delivery and discounts off special editions and back issues.

Countryfile Magazine - Current Issue