John and Gerry's    Orchids of Britain and Europe
Home Back to Orchis species Links

Orchis purpurea


O. purpurea was first described by Hudson from the county of Kent (England) in 1762 and its name refers
to the purple colouration of the inflorescence. It has long been known commonly as the Lady Orchid, this being a reference to the individual flowers resemblance to the flowing skirts of the countrywomen of the time. It should be remembered however that despite this allusion, an appendage similar to that of O. anthropophra (the Man Orchid) is visible beneath the skirt !

This is one of Europe's commoner Orchis with a range extending from the south of England, across  central and southern Europe and into Russia. It can also be found in parts of north Africa. O. purpurea is one of the tallest and most robust of the continents orchids which in exceptional cases can reach nearly a metre in height and produce multiple stems from a massive rosette of broadly lanceolate, shiny leaves. It is also known to form huge colonies in its favoured locations.

It is essentially a species that exhibits little significant variation in stature or form but lip patterns and colouration can differ, with the named variety albflora a frequently encountered example. This variety has an unmarked pure white lip with a light green hood that may be found throughout the range of the type species (see photo 12).

O. purpurea is strictly a species of alkaline soils and favours a position in slightly shaded locations such as hedgerows, verges and light woodland. Hybridisation is common and particularly with the similar O. militaris with which it frequently occurs. Intermediates do however seem to appear in isolation and rarely form the swarms that can be common with some Serapias species.