Plant Profiles Early Purple Orchid

Orchids are a very diverse and beautiful plant. Their flowers attract many people, especially the purple flowered orchids, and many reserves are set up for them to preserve their habitats. Each orchid requires certain conditions in which to grow may be found in sporadic or large numbers in these habitats. The early purple orchid (orchis mascula) is just one of the many orchid species but its growing requirements and flowering are unique.

Early purple orchid – (picture link)

The early purple orchid grows to a height of between 20 to 24 inches from ground to the top of the stem. The stem varies in color from green at the bottom to purple at the top. Its roots consist of two tubers that are either round or ellipsoid in shape. Leaves on the orchid come from the base of the stem and move upward but do not point straight up and droop down. The leaves are pale green but are speckled with brownish-purple spots.

This orchid typically flowers from April to June but in some areas early July. The blossoms will number between 6 and 20 and are concentrated in the purple stem area at the top. The coloring of the flowers can vary from pink to violet and they are densely gathered onto spiked offshoots from the purple part of the stem. The lip or bottom petal of the flower has dots or purplish-brown on it. The early purple orchid has no nectar in its flowers and instead attracts insects involved with pollination.

Growing conditions

The early purple orchid prefers alkaline soils that are calcareous, meaning that they have calcium containing deposits in them and the orchid specifically likes limestone rich soils. The habitats that the orchid thrives in are grasslands and deciduous woodlands areas. It can also be found in mountain pastures and meadows. The orchid favors either shady areas or full sun and mostly grows between 0 and 8000 feet above sea level.

This perennial wildflower will lose its leaves during winter months and persists for many years as a tuber in the ground. They are known to grow in many places of Ireland and Britain as well as most European countries, Russia, and several countries in northern Africa (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia) and the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon). Nine subspecies of the early purple orchid exist.

Historical use and mention

This orchid was once used to make a drink called Salep in Britain but its numbers no longer support the abundance needed to make the drink. This orchid was also mentioned in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.