anonymous spotter's picture

Northern Marsh Orchid?

Observed: 17th June 2006 By: anonymous spotter
Northern Marsh Orchid.JPG

Never confirmed this one - now I have iSpot to help!

Species interactions

No interactions present.


Kluut's picture

Not N marsh

The lower petal should be diamond-shaped, rather than almost butterfly-shaped as in this flower.
Looks more like heath spotted - D. maculata ericitorum.
Dactylorhiza all hybridise at the slightest opportunity - some authorities suggest that they are all the same plant, just with distinct geographical variants.

dw5448's picture

Sorting Northern from Southern and Heath

This one looks difficult to me, not least because the lower leaves don't look lanceolate and the stem seems shortened (by growing situation?) and the pattern of the upper leaves is not clear. The deep colour of the flowers supports Marsh, and the book that I am using suggests that the lip of Heath is "broadly triangular" rather than the more oblong or diamond shape of Marsh. Sorting Northern from Southern other than through size doesn't seem that easy: Northern lip diamond-shaped up to 9mm long, Southern lip 10-14mm long, broader than long, mid lobe short and blunt. The photographs and drawings I have seen don't help much.

Although initially my gut feeling was that this wasn't Northern Marsh, I now think that maybe it is. Don't know really and would be interested in how others would sort this ID out.

anonymous spotter's picture

Thanks -

for the comments. It confused me (still does) - think the hybrid idea is the most likely.

Kluut's picture

When is a hybrid, not a hybrid?

If you go with the idea that all Dactylorhiza are really the same species, there is no such thing as a hybrid - merely intermediate forms that do not conveniently fit with man's obsession with order and names for everything.
Colour is also very variable in Dactylorhiza.

dw5448's picture

Should we all become lumpers?

The temptations of becoming a lumper rather than a splitter seems tempting here. As a beginner, my problem is still to see differences that may exist and go along with current conventions.

Good point about the interbreeding though, as genetics can also throw a good spanner in the works of species separation.

gardener's picture

And if it was in Ireland I'd

And if it was in Ireland I'd be inclined to suggest Western Marsh-orchid, D. occidentalis ... The bottom lip is wrong for D. purpurella and its definitely not Heath Spotted-orchid.

Link to photos showing Northern Marsh-orchid and the shape of bottom lobe:

Western Marsh-orchid, Dactylorhiza occidentalis (D. majalis ssp. occidentalis / D. majalis):

(I've starting admiring and then moving on instead of trying to identify Dactylorhiza's any more!)

Kluut's picture


Dactylorhiza are becoming ever more popular, available and cheaper as garden plants, and "hybrids" are as popular in hardy orchids as they are in tender ones used as pot-plants, so identifying any growing wild is only set to get more complicated.

anonymous spotter's picture

Mystery orchid

Thanks again for the comments. Still puzzled, but now feel I have company!
It would be interesting to read up on the genetics of the Dactylorhiza - I wonder if there is much difference between them genetically to support the "all varieties of on a theme" idea. But from what I can remember of plant genetics, it's even more complicated than in animals (tetraploids and so on).

Kluut's picture


Polyploidy is a largely unneccessary complication. It just means that an individual has more than the normal number of chromosomes compared to a "normal" individual. The extra chromosomes are the same as in the "normal" individual, its just that it has more of them. So, if the "normal" (diploid), has 36 chromosomes, a triploid has 54, a tetraploid has 72 etc.

If there is any genetic work being done, google will find it...

dw5448's picture

Irish pictures useful

The diamond shape of Northern shows well in most of the images on the Irish site, though there are a few individual flowers in the spikes that look different from their neighbours - to be expected, I suppose.

Didn't even know there was a D. occidentalis as its not in my new glossy book or my old and probably over-condensed excursion flora. I still haven't got used to the idea that specialist websites are now the safer option.

gardener's picture

When it comes to Dactylohiza

When it comes to Dactylohiza the names are as confused as the genetics!
Stace (1995) lists Western Marsh-orchid as D. majalis or D. majalis ssp. occidentalis - not got my new copy yet so don't know if thats altered.

From the 'New Atlas of the British Flora' (2002):
"This species has been much better recorded since the 1962 Atlas, particularly in Ireland. Its overall distribution is stable, but its taxonomy is not. Stace (1997) assigned plants in Ireland and North Uist to subsp. occidentalis and all others to subsp. cambrensis; recent work indicates that this last is better treated as a subspecies of D. purpurella, that subsp. occidentalis should be raised to specific rank, and that the North Uist plants are probably referable to D. traunsteineri (R. M. Bateman, in litt.)."


anonymous spotter's picture

Oh dear -

perhaps I'll just rename all my pink orchid shots "D. mysterioso"...
Seriously thought, thanks for all comments!