Flora of Northern Ireland
  • Dactylorhiza incarnata ssp. incarnata L. - Early Marsh-Orchid (subspecies) - Orchidaceae
Dactylorhiza incarnata ssp. incarnata
© Robert Thompson
Dactylorhiza incarnata ssp. incarnata
(Map updated: March 2008)

The Early Marsh-Orchid (Dactylorhiza incarnata) is very variable in the colour of the flowers, but the shape of the lip is very distinctive and unique to the species.

The sides of the lip are bent backwards so that the lip is keeled and appears very narrow in face view. The main leaves arise from near the base of the plant and are erect and sword-shaped. The flowers are carried in a dense spike of 20~30 flowers which in the "typical" subspecies of the plant are flesh-coloured (hence the name 'incarnata'). This subspecies (subsp. incarnata) is probably not, however, the commonest in Northern Ireland. The plant is found in wet ground, usually where the soil water is alkaline or at least not very acidic.

Subspecies coccinea is a well-marked subspecies which is confined to damp ground in sand dunes: it is fairly frequent around the coast in suitable situations and is distinguished by its bright red flowers. Subspecies pulchella is the subspecies usually found in acid marshes in Northern Ireland and is mauve-purple in colour.

All names: Dactylorhiza incarnata ssp. incarnata L.; Dactylorhiza incarnata ssp. gemma (Pugsley) Sell; Dactylorchis incarnata ssp. gemma (Pugsley) J.Heslop-Harrison; Orchis strictifolia Opiz.; Dactylorchis incarnata ssp. incarnata (L.) Vermeul.