Although widespread throughout the British Isles the Common Twayblade is quite scarce on Bepton Down and present in only a very few areas of the Access Land. It has frequently been recorded near the overgrown gate on the western fence line where several specimens can be seen in fairly close proximity. It is absent from the non Access Land situated above the gate near the cattle trough.
It is a tolerant orchid favouring a wide variety of habitats ranging from the chalk grasslands such as those found on the South Downs to open deciduous woodlands, hedgerows, dune slacks, scrub and even disused quarries, wherever the soil is calcareous or slightly acidic and undisturbed. Unfortunately loss of suitable sites has lead to a 30% reduction in overall numbers.
The plant derives its name from the pair (tway) of broad, oval, green basal leaves (blade) up to 16cm in length which appears in March well before the flowering stem. The flower bearing spike will appear from April onwards. This orchid has been seen in flower on Bepton Down in late April. Normally this orchid’s main flowering period is May and June.
Due to the inconspicuous flowers this orchid is frequently overlooked. The flowers appear on a loose, spike-like raceme and may exceed 20 in number. They are yellowish green, with a deeply forked lower lip up to 15mm long and a pronounced hood. Amongst its pollinators are the male sawflies, male ichneumons and male springtails. This orchid is able to reproduce vegetatively by aerial shoots on long rhizomes so that plants of varying maturity stretch out in a line from the parent plant. The strategy is a good one as grown from seed the plant will take between seven to twenty years to reach maturity. Slow development leads to longevity and forty year old plants have been recorded.