Phylum: Magnoliophyta - Class: Liliopsida - Order: Orchidales - Family: Orchidaceae
This, the first of the native British orchids to flower each year, is still fairly common and widespread in the UK and Ireland. Orchis mascula grows to around 45cm tall, although taller specimens have been recorded. It has 3-8 basal leaves which are shiny, dark green and usually marked with large dark purple spots. There are 2-3 further small leaves sheathing the stem, which is often flushed purple.
The inflorescence is oval when the flowers are fully open and carries between 10-50 flowers which are deep pink. Occasionally pure white flowers are found (see below) but these are scarce.
Early-purple Orchid is also present throughout much of Europe, but in the far south it is replaced by Orchis olbiensis - Southern Early-purple Orchid. In central Europe it is replaced by Orchis mascula subsp. speciosa (synonym Orchis ovalis).
Orchis mascula grows in calcareous substrates and can be found in woodland and grassland.
Early-purple Orchids bloom from April to June. The specimens shown on this page were photographed in Wales during in April.
Hybrids between Early Purple-orchid and the Lady Orchid Orchis purpurea, and Early Purple Orchid and Green-winged Orchid Anacamptis morio have been described but are not confirmed.
The genus name Orchis means 'testacles', a reference to the twin tubers of orchids in this genus. The specific epithet mascula means 'masculine' and refers to the form of the underground tubers.
The Plant List
Sue Parker (2014) Wild Orchids of Wales - how, when and where to find them; First Nature
Chris Thorogood and Simon Hiscock (2014) Field Guide to the Wildflowers of the Algarve; Kew Publishing
Anne and Simon Harrap (2005) Orchids of Britain and Ireland; A&C Black
Pierre Delforge (2005) Orchids of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East; A&C Black
Den Nordiska Floran (1992) Bo Mossberg, Stefan Ericsson and Lennart Stenberg; Wahlstrom & Widstrand
If you found this information helpful, we are sure you would also like books on the Wild Orchids of Wales, of The Burren, and of the Algarve. Author-signed copies are available here...