Orchis mascula - Early Purple Orchid

Phylum: Magnoliophyta - Class: Liliopsida - Order: Orchidales - Family: Orchidaceae

Early-purple Orchid


This, the first of our native British orchids to flower each year, is still fairly widespread throughout 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 can be washed 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 ovalis.


Orchis mascula grows in calcareous substrates and can be found in woodland and grassland.

A very pale specimen

Flowering times

Early-purple orchids bloom from April to June, and the specimens on this page were photographed in West Wales in April.

Reference sources

The Plant List

Sue Parker (2014) Wild Orchids of the Algarve - where, when and how 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...