England's South Downs lie between the coastal chalk cliffs at Eastbourne in Sussex and the cathedral city of Winchester. Classified as a chalk downland habitat, the South Downs have soil rich enough to support dozens of plant species in every 10 square feet. Such diversity has made them a popular site for wildflower hiking, especially from late spring until late summer, according to the National's South Downs Way website. Brightly hued butterflies compete with the wildflowers for hikers' attention.
Bluebells (Hyacinthoides nonscripta) fill the South Downs' western woods with vast expanses of sweetly scented blue flowers in early spring. These lily family bulb plants produce pointed, linear green leaves and three to six flowering stalks, according to the Natural History Museum. Standing between 8 and 20 inches high, the stalks have nodding clusters of six-petaled, bell-shaped flowers. The blue-violet blossoms occur along one side of the stems. Bluebells are especially fragrant on warm days.
Perennial cowslip primrose (Primula veris), a 1-foot, downy-leaved plant, brightens partially shady South Downs spots with its abundant yellow blooms. Flowering in May, this primrose is hardy to minus 20 degrees F. It also tolerates warm, humid conditions better than most primroses, according to North Carolina State University Extension Specialist Alice B. Russell.
Growing in eight different forms across England, bee orchid (Ophrys apifera) takes its name from its unusual blooms. The orchid has a basal clump of grayish-green leaves and a 6- to 20-inch stem. Between June and mid-July, the stem has between two and seven colorful--and remarkably complex--flowers. The lobed blooms are variously marked with pink, green, brown, gold and yellow. Furry lobes add to the bee-like impression, according to the "Britain's Orchids Field Guide." While the plants normally flower, set seed and die in a single season, some specimens have survived as long as eight years. Happy in moist as well as well-drained locations, bee orchid tends to spread quickly along recently graded roads.
Pale or deep pink--very rarely white--depending on where it grows on the South Downs, pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis) has a 4-inch to 2-foot stem above its clump of narrow, greenish-gray leaves. Between mid-June and August, its dense, pyramidal pink flower spikes brighten the chalky downs. Deeper pink plants occur closer to the coast. Pyramidal orchids also grow on industrial sites or pavement, in quarries or other limestone-rich sites. The spurred, mildly fragrant flowers attract bumblebees and butterflies, according to the "Britain's Orchids Field Guide."