- Approximate height: 40cm (15 inches)
- Recommended water levels: plant in ordinary to wet soil but not under water
- Flowering time: June
- Flower colour: Purple
- Supplied in an 11cm (1 litre) pot
This is one of our favourite Dactylorhizas, based on growing it here at the nursery for the last ten years. This is partly because it is a lovely colour - the blooms are purple with delicate markings - but mostly because we have found that it is very easy to grow, and spreads more readily than other marsh orchids. Spontaneous seedlings are a rarity with most Dactylorhiza, but with this variety they are routine - any ground near the plant left undisturbed for two to three years is sure to have an odd seedling, and the seedlings are always true to the parent plant. Here at the nursery it will seed into stock plants anywhere within about twenty feet. It's lovely to have a Dactylorhiza which will spread around the garden even a little like this - most of them simply form clumps which increase very slowly. The leaves on this variety are a plain green, without spots. We can't be certain which species this orchid is, so we are simply calling it "purple-flowered" - see the text below for detailed information on its origin and taxonomy.
Here at the nursery the plants seem to thrive in either full sun or partial shade, and are grown in pots in wet soil all year round. They would also be suitable for a standard flowerbed, provided that the soil was not allowed to get very dry.
Origin and taxonomy - this Dactylorhiza was first found by a horticulturist friend in Cornwall around 25 years ago. It was growing as a weed in some potted plants that he purchased and he was told it was a local wild orchid. It appears to be very similar to D. purpurella (the Northern Marsh Orchid) or possibly D. incarnata subsp. pulchella (the Early Marsh Orchid). However, the Dactylorhiza orchids are a taxonomist's nightmare - there are a number of distinct species in Britain, primarily distinguished by flower colour (white through pink to purple/red) and leaf markings (completely plain through spotted on one side to spotted on both sides), but plants can vary considerably within species. For example, a certain species may be characterised by having spotted leaves and pink flowers. However, there may be a local variety of it which has spotted leaves but white flowers. Then there may be another local variety somewhere else which has plain leaves and pink flowers, yet these are all the same species. (D. purpurella has six recognised varieties, varying in leaves and blooms).
This difficulty is then greatly increased by the fact that species readily hybridise with each other in the wild, producing intermediate forms. (For example, D. purpurella has five named hybrids). These intermediate forms can then cross back into one or other of the parent species, cross into a third species, or even cross into another genus (e.g. Marsh Orchids crossing with Frog Orchids), creating a bewildering array of characteristics.
The fact that this orchid grows well in gardens suggests it is a hybrid (the original collector thought it was a cross between D. fuchsii, the Common Marsh Orchid, and D. purpurella) but the fact that it appears genetically completely isolated tends to suggest it is not this (despite being grown here at the nursery with four other Dactylorhiza types, there has never been any evidence of this type crossing with the other types in any way). Therefore in the absence of laboratory analysis by a specialist, we are simply calling this a Dactylorhiza species.