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Early-purple Orchid
Orchis mascula

The Early Purple-orchid is one of the earliest flowering orchids in Britain & Ireland and its appearance heralds a new orchid season. It is widely distributed and occurs in both woodland and in more open unimproved grassland habitats, including roadsides. In woodland it favours the edges and areas of recent coppice, where there is more abundant light. It is slow to colonise new areas and is regarded as a good indicator of ancient woodland. The flowering period extends from early April into June, varying with the timing of the season. The vegetative rosettes appear early in winter and in some areas they can be a target for browsing deer. In general, the leaves are heavily spotted but occasional plants do occur without the characteristic marking. As its common name suggests, the flowers are usually a shade of purple but pink and white flowers are present in many populations.

Distribution Map Key Features
distribution map

Records for the Early-purple 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: 10-40cm occasionally 50-60cm, stem flushed purple towards the top
Leaves: 3-8 long lanceolate-oval in basal rosette with 2-3 smaller sheathing the stem, glossy green & usually variably spotted
Bracts: lanceolate clasping ovary, variably purple
Flowers: 10-50 flowers, upper sepal and petals from hood, lateral sepals erect, lip 3-lobed & points downwards, spur 10-12cm, bent upwards, usually various shades of purple with paler white-yellow base to lip with purple spots, occasionally flowers are pink or white.

Image Gallery for Early-purple Orchid Orchis mascula

Pollination Taxonomy & Hybrids

The Early-purple Orchid is allogamous, depending on insect visitors for pollination. It is a deceit orchid that attracts insect visitors without offering a reward and does not produce nectar. The most widely accepted view is that the main pollinators are various species of bumblebee and the flowers are especially attractive to naive queens early in their flight period. The efficiency of seed set varies for different populations, probably in relation to the amount of insect activity.

The Early-purple Orchid belongs to the subgenus Masculaeand it is defined as the subspecies Orchis mascula ssp. mascula.

Hybrids with the Green-winged Orchid Anacamptis morio(Orchis ×morioides) and the Lady Orchid Orchis purpurea(Orchis ×wilmsii) have been described but they are regarded as doubtlful by some Orchis experts (Kretzschmar et al. 2007).

Articles about Early-purple Orchid in JHOS

Mike Gasson (2013) Pollination in the Early-purple Orchid. JHOS 10: 60-66