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Marsh Fragrant-orchid
Gymnadenia densiflora

Of the three species of Fragrant-orchids (Chalk Fragrant-orchid Gymnadenia conopsea, Marsh Fragrant-orchid Gymnadenia densiflora and Heath Fragrant-orchid Gymnadenia borealis) that occur in the UK, the Marsh Fragrant-orchid is the scarcest due to habitat degredation and land drainage. Until recently the Fragrant-orchids were regarded as merely subspecies or forms of one species, but genetic studies have revealed that they are sufficiently different to warrant separate species status. The three are extremely difficult to tell apart, and they are also frequently confused with Pyramidal Orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis because of the similarity in colour and flower-shape. In the case of the Pyramidal Orchid, however, the flowerhead is more compact and oval when fully open, whereas the Fragrant-orchids have laxer, narrower and more pointed infloresences. The habitat in which Fragrant-orchids grow is the key to separating the species from one another: the Marsh Fragrant-orchid grows almost exclusively in wet calcium-rich sites including fenlands and sand-dune slacks that are submerged during at least part of the year and remain damp throughout. The flowering time for Marsh Fragrant-orchid is from mid June to August. The flowers are usually deep pink to purple. In Europe, Fragrant-orchids can be found from Scandinavia in the north to the Mediterranean region in the south, although records do not often distinguish the precise species, merely referring to them as Fragrant-orchids.

Distribution Map Key Features
distribution map

Records for the Marsh Fragrant-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: 30 to 60cm tall; stem mostly green becoming purple towards the top.
Leaves: several broad, keeled, erect leaves situated at the base of the stem. There are also a number of smaller, narrower bract-like leaves on the upper stem.
Bracts: green to purple, small, oval, tapering-to-points.
Flowers: Up to 100 held in a tall, sometimes dense spike; deep pink to purple, sometimes with white margins. The upper sepal and petals form a hood over the flower lip, and the lateral sepals are more or less horizontal. The upper and lower margins of the lateral sepals are rolled backwards. The lip is flat and as wide as it is long; it has three distinct rounded lobes. The flowers have a strong sweet scent.

Image Gallery for Marsh Fragrant-orchid Gymnadenia densiflora

Pollination Taxonomy & Hybrids

The difference in shape and size of the Marsh Fragrant-orchid flowers may suggest that it has different pollinators from those that visit the other Fragrant-orchid species, but no confirmative information is available.

The specific name densiflora refers to the sometimes densely packed flower spike.

Britain's three species of Fragrant-orchids may hybridise, but confirmation of this is difficult. There are several intergeneric hybrids: X Gymnanacamptis anacamptis with Pyramidal Orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis, X Gymnaglossum jacksonii with the Frog Orchid, X Dactylodenia heinzeliana with Common Spotted-orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii, X Dactylodenia legrandiana with Heath Spotted-orchid Dactylorhiza maculata, and X Dactylodenia wintoni with Southern Marsh-orchid Dactylorhiza praetermissa.

Articles about Marsh Fragrant-orchid in JHOS