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Lady Orchid
Orchis purpurea

The Lady Orchid is classified as Nationally Scarce and listed as Endangered. It maintains a stronghold in Kent, although a few isolated plants and small colonies have become established in other southern counties, notably in Oxfordshire. As its common name implies, the Lady Orchid is one of four British orchids with an anthropomorphic flower. Orchis purpurea favours woodland sites and normally flowers from early May through to early June. The Lady Orchid is still widespread in many European countries.

Distribution Map Key Features
distribution map

Records for the Lady 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: 20-50cm but can reach 90cm.
Leaves: 3-5 basal leaves (3.5-7cm wide; 17-21cm long) have a distinctive shiny green appearance and there are 2 upper leaves sheathing the stem that can have a purple tint.
Bracts: short membranous
Flowers: up to 90 flowers on a large spike (to 30cm), sepals and upper petals form a dark purple hood that on closer inspection has a green base with variable amounts of purple staining. Lip is white or pale pink with darker purple spots and edges. The spur points downwards and is half the length of the ovary. The lobes create the "lady" caricature with two narrow "arms" and two larger central lobes that together form a "skirt". Usually there is a small tooth between these lobes.

Image Gallery for Lady Orchid Orchis purpurea

Pollination Taxonomy & Hybrids

Lady Orchid is pollinated by various small bees and flies, but subsequent growth from seed is unreliable. Vegetative reproduction is also known to produce clumps of plants.

The range of the Lady Orchid in the UK is now centred around Kent and two very rare hybrids have been reported from the county. Ophrys x wilmsii is a hybrid with Early Purple Orchid Orchis mascula, and Ophrysmeilsheimeri is a hybrid with Man Orchid Orchis anthropophora. In Oxfordshire there is a well known site with hybrids between Lady Orchid and Monkey Orchid Orchis simia, often referred to as Lankey Orchids.

Articles about Lady Orchid in JHOS

David Johnson (2012 ) Herbivore Pressure on Orchid Populations – Nippers Re-visited. JHOS 9: 14-15
Mike Gasson (2012) Lost Ladies – Does It Matter? JHOS 9: 15-17

Alfred Gay (2013) Further Notes on Orchis purpurea Herbivory and Conservation. JHOS 10: 12-13