Northern Marsh Orchids -Dactylorhiza purpurella - Western Isles Wildflowers

Heath Spooted Orchid - Tolsta Head

Northern Marsh Orchid
A really beautiful purple orchid, the northern marsh orchid often seen here in The Western Isles

Hebridean Orchids
A robust plant 10-35cm tall, with four to six broad green pointed stem leaves. The flower spike is dense and square topped, with 10-40 bright purple to magenta coloured flowers

Northern Marsh Orchid

Likes Wet Ground
A plant of wet ground in dune-slacks, marshes and fens where the water is not too acidic.

As its name suggests, the northern marsh orchid mostly inhabits the northern half of Britain.

The flower spike is dense and square topped, with 10-40 bright purple to magenta coloured flowers.

Lower Petals
The lower petal is somewhat diamond-shaped, un lobed or shallowly lobed, not bent back as in Early Marsh Orchid.


Root Capable of Sprouting New Plants

Orchids all have either a root capable of sprouting a new plant (tuberous stock) or the base of the stem is swollen into a bulb-like growth.

Folklore - The Greeks
The ancient Greeks gave this flowers family its name. The word orkhis means testicle. They’re named this because of the shape of their bulbous roots. In classical mythology, Orchis, the son of a satyr and a nymph, was turned into a flower after his death.

In his Materia Medica, the first century A.D. Greek physician Dioscorides hypothesized that orchids influenced sexuality. Ever since, people have associated the plant with virility, fertility, sex determination, and other aspects of reproduction, inspired perhaps by the exotic appearance, fragrance, and frankly erotic aspect of its flower’s sexual parts.

Sex Their Unborn Babies
It was said that in Ancient Greece, parents believed they could control the sex of their unborn children with orchid roots. If the father ate large, new tubers, the child would be male; if the mother ate small tubers, the child would be female

The Chinese and Orchids
The ancient Chinese were one of the first people to use orchids as medicine, and some of the earliest paintings of orchids can be found on the oldest of Chinese vases.

Vanilla Flavouring From Orchids
Today, one of our most popular flavourings Vanilla is derived from the seed pods of orchids.

Costa Rica - Orchid - National Flower.
The orchid the "Guaria Morada" is the Nation flower of Costa Rica. This orchid species gets nutrients from the air, rain, dust and resides stored around the bases of trees. The flower is associated with the beauty of Costa Rican ladies and this orchid is said to bring unions, family understanding, peace and love and hope for the future.

Largest Orchid in The World - 20 metres tall
The largest orchid in the world can grow up to 20 metres tall. It is called Grammatophyllum speciosum and can weigh up to 2000pound / 900 kilograms. It can produce up to 10,000 flowers on a mature plant.The species is found in Malaysia, the Solomon Islands, Sumatra, the Philippines, Papua and New Guinea.

No Blue Coloured Orchid
Orchids come in many different colours, including green and even black.The one colour you’ll never see an orchid in is blue.

New Orchid Species
New species of orchids are still being discovered each year. In fact, between 200 and 300 new types are found annually.


Click pictures below for larger photographs
Northern Marsh Orchid - Diamond Shaped Lobe
The lip of the flower is barely lobed, so that it appears almost diamond-shaped, and the colouring of the flower is very dark.

Lines and dots

As can be seen by the close up photograph opposite of the petals, there are darker lines and dots over most of the lower petal, not just near its centre

Lip Curls Back

The lip curling back is also a characteristic sign that this is a northern marsh orchid

The leaves are usually unspotted, although a few may carry fine spots near the apex of the leaf if they have been hybridised and crossed with another orchid.

The leaves are a mid-green colour and are , held at 45 degrees. and there are usually 4 - 6 leaves spaced along the stem. Usually they are unspotted but any spotting consisting of tiny spots, will be mostly towards the leaf tip.

Northern Marsh Orchid - Western Isles Wildflowers - Size
The Northern Marsh-orchid typically grows to between 15 to 30 cm in height although taller specimens can occur

Protected by Law

All wild orchids are protected by law If You remove or disturb the ground - you can be fined or imprisoned - or both. If you are wanting to move them you need to get a licence from the local council.

Bumblebees and butterflies occasionally pollinate these flowers
Heath Spotted Orchid - Hebrides Wildflowers

Often when two different species grow side by side, they will hybridise and a cross orchid will ensue. In the picture opposite since the leaves are actually quite spotted, maybe one can assume this is a hybrid of two or more species


Other Marsh Orchids
Apparently from what I can see there are actually about 6 marsh orchids that may be seen in The Western Isles including the Early marsh Orchid, which I have documented. I will hope to perhaps over time catch sight of them all. The Lapland Orchid is very rare and there have only been one population being sighted on The Isle of Harris.

The Western Marsh Orchid too is quite rare, there only being sighted one population on North Uist.

The Broad Leaved Marsh Orchid is also often seen on the dunes near the sea.


Northern Mrash Orchid - Isle of Lewis
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