Information on Lesser Butterfly-orchid

Common Name: Lesser Butterfly-orchid
Scientific Name: Platanthera bifolia
Irish Name: Magairlín beag an fhéileacáin
Family Group: Orchidaceae
Distribution: View Map (Courtesy of the BSBI)
Flowering Period


Click for list of all flowering by month
Lesser Butterfly-orchid could sometimes be confused with:

Butterfly-orchid, Greater,

This little creamy-white orchid grows (to 40cm) on a wide range of soils and flowers from May to July.  It blooms in a spike of up to 15 greenish white flowers which have a long narrow lip, a long spur (25-30mm) and pollen sacs which are parallel to one another.  This latter point is the main identifying feature of the Lesser Butterfly Orchid over the relatively similar Greater Butterfly Orchid whose pollen sacs form an inverted 'V'.  The flowers emit a sweet scent at night that attracts their primary pollinators - evening and night flying moths. There are two oval basal leaves.  This native plant belongs to the family Orchidaceae.

I first identified this orchid growing in the Burren, Co Clare in 1988 and I photographed it in the same area in 2009. 

If you are satisfied you have correctly identified this plant, please submit your sighting to the National Biodiversity Data Centre

Butterfly-orchid, Lesser
Butterfly-orchid, Lesser

To learn more about our Irish orchids, I would heartily recommend a really superb book on the subject which is published by the Collins Press and entitled 'Ireland's Wild Orchids - a field guide'. 

Each of our native orchids is beautifully illustrated by the gifted botanical artist, Susan Sex and is an exquisite representation of an amazing plant; Susan's illustrations are complemented by carefully-chosen words from our National Botanic Gardens orchid specialist, Brendan Sayers. Susan's illustrations of key features of our native orchids are extremely useful when trying to identify a species and Brendan's descriptions help to broaden one's understanding of this complex and intriguing subject, and lead one nearer to making a possible identification. He also contributes information on the conservation of these magnificent little plants and gives details of where they might be found. Please seek out this masterpiece from your usual bookseller or find it on http://www.collinspress.ie/irelands-wild-orchids.html