Meadows gained a reputation for being rich in wild flowers. They are generally the flowers of grassland, and the list of species to be found on unimproved English meadows is greater than I have room to list here. In the south of England there are surviving meadows which are orchid-rich, and these orchids are often rare and protected by conservationists,many of whom do not advertise to the world that the rare orchids are present. The fate of one example of the rare ghost orchid is illustrative. A specimen that was being protected by conservationists was one night dug up and stolen from its woodland home by a collector who wanted it for him/herself. Fortunately there are others.
There is a fact about wildflowers little known by non-gardeners, that they prefer land that is low in nutrients, for rich soil kills them, which is why they do not thrive in gardens. Meadow soil is just the right level of nutrients for a wide range of plant species, while pasture is too heavily grazed for them and arable land too heavily fertilized.
Along with the flowers comes a wide range of insects, that feed on meadow species. As the meadow grass is kept tall, tall flowers abound and thrive, so butterflies, bees and hoverflies hum among the flower tops. Lower down there are grassy stalks which provide food for caterpillars, but the rich insect life is staggering in its complexity.The Offwell Wildlife Trust in Staffordshire, in the English North West Midlands, reckons that an acre of meadow contains 2.25 million spiders and hundreds of millions of mites and other insects; and that does not allow for the edaphon [soil life] of the soil beneath. In wet meadows damsel flies and dragon flies are found, and we can see fireflies and glow worms on summer evenings as they dance their ephemeral mating rituals.
Meadows are havens for British bees,threatened by the toxic neonicotinoids that farmers use to poison unfriendly insects and which poison the beneficial ones as well. You don't use pesticides on a meadow, just leave it to flourish organically, and the so the bees thrive. Beekeepers know and love meadows.
I must mention meadowsweet, which was used to flavour the fermented honey drink, mead, whose name suggests a connection with meadows. Meadowsweet, Filipendula ulmaria, is a plant of damp meadows that was traditionally used as a mead flavouring. Foraging experts and mead makers still pick it where they can, but it does not grow in my area and so I have not had the pleasure of foraging for it.