White Forms of Wild Orchids

For those interested in wild orchids, finding them on a walk in the countryside is always a source of pleasure: coming across a pure white orchid amongst a colony of otherwise normal-coloured specimens is really special. Although not rare, white forms are relatively uncommon. This page is dedicated to pictures of white flowers that we have discovered over the years on trips both in the UK and in Europe.

In 2022, and finally ‘un-locked down’ post-Covid, we made a trip to the south of France, which had been postponed twice. We went to revisit favourite hot spots and to update photographs, but the trip turned into a real bonanza of hybrids. We also found white forms of orchids that hitherto we had not seen.

Anacamptis morio var. alba

Green-winged Orchid Anacamptis morio

The Green-winged Orchid is very variable in colour, ranging from dark purple to dark-and-pale pinks and through to pure white. In large colonies, flowers of many different shades appear together creating a real problem for those new to the confusing world of orchid identification. The defining feature of the Green-winged Orchid is the greenish stripes which appear on the hood of the flower. They are very visible in the photograph above but can be quite difficult to see on the darker coloured flowers. The white form of this orchid is relatively common in groups of plants, but the species is in steep decline over much of its range due to habitat degredation.

Anacamptis pyramidalis var. alba

Pyramidal Orchid - Anacamptis pyramidalis

Pyramidal Orchids are generally pink without the variability found in the Green-winged Orchid described above, but pure white forms are occasionally found in otherwise pink-coloured colonies of plants. This lovely orchid is still common throughout its geographical range, where is often the dominant species in coastal locations.

Dactylorhiza incarnata var alba

Early Marsh-orchid Dactylorhiza incarnata

The Early Marsh-orchid appears in four reasonably stable and distinctive colours, which have been divided into four subspecies, one of which is a pale creamy-green and very rare - Dactylorhzia incarnata subsp. ochroleuca. The plant above is an uncommon white form and not to be confused with the rare subspecies.

Neottinea ustulata var albiflora

Burnt Orchid - Neottinea ustulata

The Burnt Orchid is characterised by the dark red tip of the infloresence, which is particularly noticeable in the early stages of flowering, and so to find a white form is intriguing. This orchid is in decline in many parts of its range, particularly in the UK, and the white form is even rarer.

Ophrys apifera var alba

Bee Orchid - Ophrys apifera

The Bee Orchid is one of our most-loved orchids and normally has bright pink petals and sepals but, in the specimen seen above, they are pure white. Such white forms are more common on mainland Europe than in the UK.

Orchis italica var alba

Naked Man Orchid Orchis Italica

Every now and then one is lucky enough to stumble over something truly stunning. This rare white Naked Man Orchid pictured above was one of four pure white plants in a stony field in the Algarve in Portugal. This small colony persisted for several years but has now disappeared.

Orchis mascula var alba

Early Purple Orchid Orchis mascula

The white plants of Early Purple Orchid shown above appeared several years running in a roadside ditch in west Wales. They have now disappeared, but white forms of the Early Purple Orchid are sometimes found close to purple-flowered plants.

Orchis purpurea var. alba

Lady Orchid Orchis purpurea

The Lady Orchid is extremely rare in the UK, but on mainland Europe where it is more common occasional white forms are found. The plant shown above was photographed in southern France.

Orchis simia var alba

Monkey Orchid Orchis simia

The amazing plant shown above was found on a roadside in southern France, was on its own with no other Monkey Orchids in close proximity. The pure white form is unusal.

Orchis militaris var alba

Military Orchid - Orchis militaris

The Military Orchid is another real rarity in the UK but is much more common in parts of mainland Europe, including southern France where this plant was photographed. This white-flowered plant was growing in a damp meadow containing several orchid species.

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)

Sue Parker (2023) Wild Orchids of the Algarve - where, when and how 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

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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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