In late summer on the downs, notably the Purbeck Ridge and along the limestone sea cliffs, we are blessed with good numbers of this lovely little plant, autumn lady's-tresses (Spiranthes spiralis).
It is a member of the orchid family and, I believe, it is a nationally scarce plant, so this is something of a local specialty. It is not that big and grows amongst short turf on dry, calcareous soils, such as the chalk and limestones on the English Channel coast. Although not big, it is quite distinctive and there is little to confuse it with. The small flowers grow in spirals up the central stem, hence the 'spiralis' in its scientific name.
In 2010 there was a count of the flowers at Durlston Country Park and over 1,000 were found but this photograph was of a specimen on Ballard Down near Swanage and I have seen them at various other places including the Dorset Wildlife Trust reserve at Stonehill Down and at nearby Steeple Hill on the Purbeck Ridge.
Orchids are always special to find and the downs are good for a range of species but late in the year it is just this little gem.