Orchis olbiensis - Southern Early Purple Orchid

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

Orchis olbiensis, southern Portugal

Above: Orchis olbiensis photographed in mid April in the mountains of the Algarve, southern Portugal


Orchis Olbiensis is very similar in appearance to Orchis mascula but is generally a taller and more spindly-looking. It grows to around 50cm tall and has a basal rosette of leaves which are narrow and pointed and are sometimes spotted with dark brown. The upper part of the stem is flushed deep purple. The inflorescence is lax and carries between 20-30 deep purple flowers. The lip is shallowly lobed and has a white centre spotted with red.


Orchis olbiensis is localised but widespread in Portugal, Spain and southern France. It is also recorded in North Africa.


It is tolerant of a number of habitats and substrates but grows at its best on limestone.

Flowering times

In the Mediterranean countries Orchis olbiensis flowers very early - certainly by mid-March.

The photographs on this page were taken in the Algarve region of Portugal, high up in the mountains between Monchique and Foia in early April. From early March they occur in vast numbers on top of the famous limestone cliff at Rocha da Pena which is in the centre of the Algarve.


The genus name Orchis means 'testacles', a reference to the twin tubers of orchids in this genus. The specific epithet olbiensis means 'of or from Olbia' (now known as the Isles d'Hyères) in southern France.

Orchis olbiensis, Algarve

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

Pierre Delforge (2005) Orchids of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East; A&C Black

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