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Common Spotted-orchid
Dactylorhiza fuchsii

The Common Spotted-orchid is one of the few species that are still thriving in Britain despite the ongoing environmental damage and habitat desctruction that has caused so many other orchids to decline. Its secret is an adaptability that enables it to colonise new areas. Few of us can have failed to spot the vast numbers of Dactylorhiza fuchsii on urban roadside verges and roundabouts - this orchid is living among us. It lives up to its common name on both counts: this orchid is indeed common, and its leaves are profusely marked with dark spots and blotches. Although best known from alkaline habitats such as fens, dune slacks, old quarries and lime pits, the Common Spotted-orchid is also tolerant of mildly acidic substrates and so can sometimes be found on heathland among heather. In Britain and Ireland this orchid flowers from mid May to the end of July. On mainland Europe the range of Common Spotted-orchid extends from Scandinavia in the north through central Europe and southwards to the Mediterranean.

Distribution Map Key Features
distribution map

Records for the Common Spotted-orchid from BSBI are shown on the map with most recent in front. (Hover the mouse over the small map to expand it.)

CLICK HERE to visit the BSBI website page for updated data and maps with separated data for individual record periods

Plant: 7 to 70cm tall, but more usually to 50cm; stem pale green, flushed purple towards the top.
Leaves: green and usually heavily marked throughout. Above a small blunt leaf at the base of the plant there are several broad sheathing leaves and numerous smaller non-sheathing leaves higher up.
Bracts: numerous, usually green but sometimes purple, narrow and pointed at the tips.
Flowers: occasionally well over 100 flowers but usually between 20 and 70 held in a conical spike as flowers open, the inflorescence later becoming more oval when in full flower; various shades of pink-purple, sometimes white. The upper sepal and petals form a hood over the lip of the flower. The lip appears flattened and is deeply divided into three lobes; white towards the centre, it is often marked with numerous dark-red dots, dashes and loops.

Image Gallery for Common Spotted-orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii

Pollination Taxonomy & Hybrids

Pollination is highly successful, and a number of insects - particularly beetles - are attracted to the flowers' nectar.

The specific name 'fuchsii' refers to the German botanist Leonard Fuchs.
There is one subspecies found in Britain: Dactylorhiza fuchsii subsp. hebridensis which is found in Scotland, the Outer Hebrides and western Ireland.
There are a number of varieties and hybrids. Dactylorhiza fuchsii var. albiflora has unmarked white flowers and is fairly widespread. Dactylorhiza fuchsii var. alpina has small, darker flowers and is found in Scotland and parts of northern England; it has also been reported from Wales. Dactylorhiza fuchsii var. cornubiensis is a smaller plant with a relatively large infloresence and larger flowers; it is found in Cornwall. Dactylorhiza fuchsii var. albiflora has unmarked white flowers and unspotted leaves; it is widespread but uncommon. Dactylorhiza fuchsii var. okellyii is somewhat contentious: it resembles Dactylorhiza fuchsii var. albiflora but the leaves can be either spotted or unspotted; this variety is thought to be confined to western Ireland, the Isle of Man and parts of Scotland. Dactylorhiza fuchsii var. rhodochila is a widespread but rare hyperchromatic variant with excessive pigmentation; the lips of its flowers are reddish purple with a paler border, and the leaves can have either heavily marked or completely purple leaves.
There are also several hybrids. Dactylorhiza x transiens is the hybrid with Heath Spotted-orchid Dactylorhiza maculata. Dactylorhiza x kernerorum is the hybrid with Early Marsh-orchid Dactylorhiza incarnata. Dactylorhiza x mixtum is a rare hybrid with the Frog Orchid Dactylorhiza viridis. Dactylorhiza x venusta is the hybrid with Northern Marsh-orchid Dactylorhiza purpurella. Dactylorhiza x grandis is the hybrid with Southern Marsh-orchid and is widespread in southern Britain. Dactylorhiza x silvae-gabretae is the hybrid with Narrow-leaved Marsh-orchid Dactylorhiza traunsteinerioides. Dactylorhiza x braunii is the hybrid with Irish Marsh-orchid Dactylorhiza occidentalis and is recorded from County Clare.
There is also an intergeneric hybrid. X Dactylodenia st-quintinii is the hybrid with Fragrant Orchid Gymnadenia conopsea and possibly with Britain's other two Fragrant Orchids.

Articles about Common Spotted-orchid in JHOS