Plant Profiles Early Marsh Orchid

Orchids are a diverse and very beautiful flowering plant. The orchid requires specific conditions in which to grow and can sometimes be found in just small numbers or produce huge numbers in excess of a several thousand in a small area. They have a very large number of different species and thousands of hybrids have been produced. One of these many species of orchid is the early marsh orchid (dactylorhiza incarnate) and it has a unique growing area and look.

Early marsh orchid – (picture link)

This orchid will typically grow to about 8 to 12 inches emerging from the tuber root. Green leaves will rise up along the main stalk and point upwards. These leaves are long and thinner at the top then near the ground (lance shaped) and the orchid may produce between 4 and 8 of them with three leaves forming right when the flowers develop. The leaves of some subspecies have maroon dots speckled on them.

These orchids typically bloom between June and July and may produce between 20 and 30 blossoms at the top of the stalk in a dense cluster. Blossoms begin opening from lower buds and progress to the top of the stalk. The color of the flowers will vary between subspecies and could range from coral-red, salmon-red, pink-lavender, pink-white, and rosy violet. The individual blossoms are typically shaped like tiny urns and flare at the top of the petal. The bottom petal in the blossom is often speckled and the upper petal somewhat covers the opening.

Growing conditions

The early marsh orchid likes to grow in sunny or even partially sunny meadows, stream banks, and heathlands (dwarf-shrub habitat with mostly acidic soils) all across Europe. The conditions they prefer are moist soil that is rich in organic material. They range from areas of Norway across Europe and into parts of the eastern Russia.

As a perennial wildflower, the early marsh orchid will lose its leaves during the winter. The plant will persist for years as a tuber root which will develop between 2 to 5 lobes. Though widespread across Europe, even in a good habitat they will not grow heavily in any area but rather pop up sporadically across the habitat. These orchids are pollinated by insects.

Types of this orchid

Seven different subspecies of the early marsh orchid exist across the region it grows in. The seven subspecies are incarnate, cruenta, orchroleuca, serotina, coccinea, pulchella, and haematodes. Distinctions between the seven subspecies all have to do with the flower color and very small changes in the petal shape.