Orchis purpurea - Lady Orchid

Scientific Name: Orchis purpurea – 'orchis' is from the Greek for testicle, a reference to the form of the tubers; 'purpurea' is from the Latin for purple, a reference to the colour of the 'hood'.

English Name: Lady Orchid – the form of the lower petal suggests a lady in a crinoline.

French Name: Orchis pourpre (= Purple Orchid); Orchis casque (= Helmet Orchid); Orchis brun (= Brown Orchid).

5 Key Characters:
  • flower spike a rather fat ovoid shape, 5-25 cm long, with 25-100+ flowers.
  • flowers have a rounded dark purple 'hood' (or helmet).
  • labellum (bottom petal) is trilobed, but very variable in form.
  • middle lobe of the labellum is slightly divided, with a small 'tooth' between.
  • middle lobe much wider than the side lobes.
Lookalikes: Military Orchid Orchis militaris, from which it can be distinguished by the colour of the 'hood' (dark in O. purpurea, bright in O. militaris) and the shape of the labellum (O. purpurea is 'short-waisted', O. militaris is 'long-waisted'). The two species hybridise readily, so specimens that show characteristics of both may be hybrids. In the Touraine it hybridises particularly with Monkey Orchid O. simia, which can cause real problems for identifying specimens.

Habitat: Often on open flat land, but does just as well in full sun as quite heavy shade; dry or damp calcareous soil; fallow land, short lightly grazed flower rich grassland, woods and copses, especially oak or beech. Not present on flinty clays and loams.

Flowering Period: April-May-June. An impressive orchid when in flower.

Status: Fairly common everywhere in the Touraine, Berry and Vienne. Can be seen within 5 km radius of Preuilly-sur-Claise. Sometimes makes very dense colonies.

by Loire Valley Nature:
Photographs numbered from left to right, top to bottom. 1 flower spike. 2 plant in bud. 3 flower spike in bud. 4-5 leaf rosette, March. 6 detail of flower, rather pale and 'thin' possibly a hybrid. 7 Possible hybrid (see 6 for detail of single flower), roadside near Chaumussay, April. 8 detail of typical flower. 9 - 11 typical specimens flowering in our orchard, April (see 8 for detail of single flower). 12 as 7. 13 - 17 the same specimens as 9 - 11, at the peak of their flowering, May.

Just coming into flower, with the flowers opening from the bottom up.

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