Orchis purpurea - Lady Orchid

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

Orchis purpurea - Lady Orchid

The specimen shown above was photographed in the Lot Valley, southern France, in late May.

In the UK the Lady Orchid is now rare and limited to a few sites in southern England. It is easier to find this orchid in France or Italy where it still flowers freely in some places. In the Gargano Peninsula area of southern Italy the plants can grow to a metre in height and have large, densley-packed infloresences of vividly marked flowers.

Lady Orchid, Italy


The Lady Orchid grows up to 80 cm tall and has a basal rosette 3 - 8 large erect leaves which are glossy green and unmarked. The flower spikes of the Lady Orchid can contain anything up to 200 individual flowers. The upper sepals and petals from a dark red hood above the lip of the flower which is white and strongly marked with deep red. The shape and markings of the lips of Orchis purpurea are extremely variable but there is no mistaking a Lady Orchid when you have found one - its sheer size and vivid white and dark red flowers confirm that it is unlikely to be anything else.


The Lady Orchid is now rare in the UK and found in only a few sites in Kent and Oxfordshire. It is more common in parts of Europe where it occurs from Denmark in the north to Spain, Italy, Greece and North Africa.


Favouring alkaline or occasionally neutral soils, the Lady Orchid occurs in short grassland, on woodland edges and sometimes in open woodland. In the UK it associated almost exclusively with woodland habitats, but is found in open scrubland in other parts of Europe.

A very tall, robust Lady Orchid plant in Italy

The plant shown above was photographed in mid-April on a roadside in southern Italy, and there were numerous other specimens of similar stature in the vicinity.

A closeup picture of a very large Lady Orchid

A wonderful specimen of the Lady Orchid photographed in the Gargano Peninsula in southern Italy in mid-April

Flowering times

In the UK this orchid flowers in May and June. Further south in Europe it comes into flower in April.

Hybrids and Varieties

Two rare hybrids have been reported in the UK:

In Oxfordshire there is a well known site with hybrids between Lady Orchid and Monkey Orchid Orchis simia, often referred to as Lankey Orchids.


The genus name Orchis means 'testacles', a reference to the twin tubers of orchids in this genus. The specific epithet purpurata means 'purplish'.

Reference sources

The Plant List

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...

© 1995 - 2021 First Nature: a not-for-profit volunteer-run resource

Please help to keep this free resource online...

Terms of use - Privacy policy - Disable cookies - Links policy