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Early Purple Orchid

Orchis Mascula

An early purple orchid in a meadow.

Often arriving with the bluebell, the flowers of this early orchid make a handsome sight in spring.

The classic colour is magenta however occasionally white and pale pink flower spikes can be found. The leaves are are shiny with dark purple blotches. When first in bloom it has a wonderful scent, not dissimilar to Lily-of-the-valley tinged with blackcurrant but as the flowers fade, it starts to reek! As its name suggests, this is one of the first orchids to bloom, only the Early Spider-orchid flowers earlier.

Where to find Early Purple Orchid.

It adapts to a variety of habitats and can be found in hay meadows, woodland and often on roadside verges. It occurs mostly on non-acidic soils, and is also found in ancient woodland (especially coppice), chalk downland, grassy banks, limestone pavements and cliff-top grassland. It is widely distributed across the UK and Ireland.

How’s it doing?

The Early Purple Orchid was once a common plant, found in a variety of habitats. Sadly, these have also been places where urban development and modern farming methods have taken their toll. Although it is still found at sites throughout the UK it is by no means as abundant as it once was.

Early Purple Orchids at Deep Dale

Did you know?

  • There is a dizzying array of local names for the Early Purple Orchid. These include adder’s meat, bloody butchers, red butchers, goosey ganders, kecklegs, kettle cases and kite’s legs.
  • The legend that Early Purple Orchid grew under Christ’s cross, and the leaves were splattered with the blood of Christ, have resulted in the names Gethesmane and cross flower.
  • The dried tubers have been used to make a drink called Saloop or Salep by grinding them into flour, and mixing with hot milk or water, honey and spices. This was popular in the nineteenth century among manual workers probably owing to wholesome and strengthening qualities. It probably originated from the similar Middle Eastern drink, sahleb.
  • In the quote below, the Early Purple Orchid is the “long purple” of Ophelia’s garland, as referred to by Gertrude in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Other Species

Adder’s Tongue Spearwort

Adder's Tongue Spearwort

Ranunculus ophioglossifolius

Alexanders

Alexanders

Smyrnium olusatrum

Basil Thyme

Basil Thyme

Clinopodium acinos