Plant Profiles Northern Marsh Orchid

Orchids are quite a diverse and beautifully group of flowering plant. Orchids typically require specific conditions in order to grow and can be found in small or large numbers in their habitats. There are many species of orchid and also many hybrids that have been created. One of these species of orchid is the northern marsh orchid (dactylorhiza purpurella) and hybrids of it are often difficult to identify.

Northern marsh orchid – (picture link)    

The northern marsh orchid will typically reach heights of between 6 and 16 inches high though taller plants have been known. The leaves may be spotted although that is not always the case. Some hybrids of this species of orchid do have spots at the leaf tips while the man northern marsh orchid does not. Four to six green broad pointed leaves will be at the stem of the orchid. The stem of the plant is green at the ground but becomes purple the closer to the top of the stem and the flower cluster.

Flowering on the northern marsh will be in a cluster at the top of the stem. Often the very top of the flower cluster will be flat and not be topped with a flower. About 10 to 40 flowers usually bloom on this orchid and they will be dark or deep purple or magenta. Lighter colors usually indicate that the plant is a hybrid. The lip of the flowers will be somewhat diamond-shaped. Most of an individual petal will be covered in dark purple lines and dots. The flowers typically bloom in June or July.

Growing conditions

The northern marsh orchids likes wet grounds and can be found on dune slopes, marshes, and other areas where the water and ground is not too acidic and the soil contains limestone. The name comes from the fact that the orchid inhabits mostly the northern part of Britain and Ireland. It can also sometimes be found at old industrial sites like brickworks or ironworks.


Hybrids of this type will occur when this species grows near another species. Hybrids are commonly created between common spotted orchid and the early marsh orchid. The hybrids are partially fertile and can cross back with one of the parent plants and create other hybrids with a range of slightly different characteristic. This often makes hybrids very difficult to identify from the original orchid where populations of it and other orchids exist.