Dactylorhiza kerryensis - Irish Marsh-orchid

Phylum: Magnoliophyta - Class: Liliopsida - Order: Orchidales - Family: Orchidaceae

Dactylorhiza kerryensis

Another orchid that is difficult to identify. It is recorded in Ireland and is sometimes referred to as Dactylorhiza occidentalis.


This is another robust-looking marsh-orchid (around 25cm tall), and there is much argument about its range due to confusion with other orchids including the Early Marsh-orchid. The flowers have broader and flatter lips (sometimes slightly recurved) with three shallow lobes, unlike Early Marsh-orchids which have distinctly recurved lips. The flowers of D. kerryensis are rose pink but sometimes darker purple or, rarely, white. There are up to 4 leaves which are often spotted on the upper surface.


This orchid is endemic to Ireland, where the extent of its distribution is much disputed.

The Western Marsh-orchid Dactylorhiza majalis is recorded in Europe from Northern Spain, as far north as southern Scandinavia, and into central Europe including Slovenia

Dactylorhiza kerryensis


The Irish Marsh-orchid favours neutral or slightly alkaline soils and is found on the edges of loughs, in dune slacks and in damp hollows in short-sward grassland. They cope well with open sunny positions.

Flowering times

The Irish Marsh Orchid flowers in May and June.

Dactylorhiza kerryensis

Hybrids and Varieties
Dactylorhiza occidentalis
var. kerryensis always has unspotted leaves and is reported to be a shorter plant with smaller, paler flowers; it may be closely allied to the Southern Marsh-orchid Dactylorhiza praetermissa.
x dinglensis is a hybrid with Heath Spotted-orchid Dactylorhiza maculata.
x aschersoniana is a hybrid with Early Marsh-orchid Dactylorhiza incarnata.
x braunii is a hybrid with Common Spotted-orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii and is reported from County Clare.


The genus name Dactylorhiza means 'finger-like roots', while the specific epithet kerryensis means 'from Kerry' and the synonymous name occidentalis means 'from the west'.

Reference sources


Pictures by kind permission of Simon Tarrant


The Plant List

Sue Parker (2009) Wild Orchids in The Burren; First Nature

Henrik Pedersen Field Guide to the Orchids of Europe and the Mediterranean (2019); Kew

Anne and Simon Harrap (2005) Orchids of Britain and Ireland; A&C Black

Pierre Delforge (2005) Orchids of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East; A&C Black

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