Orchis mascula - Early-purple Orchid

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

Early-purple Orchid


This, the first of the native British orchids to flower each year, is still fairly common and widespread in the UK and Ireland. Orchis mascula grows to around 45cm tall, although taller specimens have been recorded. It has 3-8 basal leaves which are shiny, dark green and usually marked with large dark purple spots. There are 2-3 further small leaves sheathing the stem, which is often flushed purple.

Closeup of flower of Orchis mascula

The inflorescence is oval when the flowers are fully open and carries between 10-50 flowers which are deep pink. Occasionally pure white flowers are found but these are scarce.


Early-purple Orchid is also present throughout much of Europe, but in the far south it is replaced by Orchis olbiensis - Southern Early-purple Orchid. In central Europe it is replaced by Orchis mascula subsp. speciosa (synonym Orchis ovalis).


Orchis mascula grows in calcareous substrates and can be found in woodland and grassland.

Pale flowered form of Orchis mascula

Flowering times

Early-purple Orchids bloom from April to June. The specimens shown on this page were photographed in Wales during in April.

Varieties and Hybrids


Hybrids between Early Purple-orchid and the Lady Orchid Orchis purpurea, and Early Purple Orchid and Green-winged Orchid Anacamptis morio have been described but are not confirmed.


The genus name Orchis means 'testacles', a reference to the twin tubers of orchids in this genus. The specific epithet mascula means 'masculine' and refers to the form of the underground tubers.

Reference sources

The Plant List

Sue Parker (2023) Wild Orchids of Wales - how, when and where to find them; First Nature e-book (Amazon Kindle format)

Chris Thorogood and Simon Hiscock (2014) Field Guide to the Wildflowers of the Algarve; Kew Publishing

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

Den Nordiska Floran (1992) Bo Mossberg, Stefan Ericsson and Lennart Stenberg; Wahlstrom & Widstrand

Sue Parker's latest ebook is a revised and enlarged edition of Wild Orchids in The Burren. Full details here...

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Sue Parker's new ebook is a comprehensive and fully revised edition of her acclaimed field guide to the Wild Orchids of Wales. Full details here...

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Sue Parker's 5-star acclaimed field guide to the Wild Orchids of the Algarve is now available as an ebook. Full details here...

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