Information on Early Marsh-orchid var pulchella

Common Name: Early Marsh-orchid var pulchella
Scientific Name: Dactylorhiza incarnata var. pulchella
Irish Name: Magairlín álainn
Family Group: Orchidaceae
Distribution: View Map (Courtesy of the BSBI)
Flowering Period


Click for list of all flowering by month
Early Marsh-orchid var pulchella could sometimes be confused with:

Marsh-orchid, Narrow-leaved, Marsh-orchid, Early - ssp coccinea,

Another of our superb Early Marsh-orchids, this variety - ‘pulchella’ -  is incredibly beautiful. It stands to about 30cm tall, at most, bearing a dense spike of light purple flowers, each 8-12mm long. The labellum is narrow and reflexed, shallowly-lobed. There are two outer, lateral sepals which are erect and spreading and three upper tepals which form an incurved hood. Throughout is an amazing pattern of dots and loops. The spur is downward-pointing, slightly curved and stout. The spike of flowers becomes longer as it ages, is cylindrical and on a narrow stem. The leaves are unspotted, linear-lanceolate and hooded slightly at the apex. Its habitat is lakeshores, bogs, marshes and fens. It blooms from May to July, is a native perennial and is scattered throughout, more frequent in Counties Galway and Clare. It belongs to the Orchidaceae or Orchid family.  

This is a subspecies for which Ireland holds or possibly holds more than 25% of the European population (Ireland Red List No. 10 Vascular Plants)

I first saw and photographed this magnificent species in Co Sligo in 2013 when on a field trip with Ulli Peiller and Howard and Peg Frost, members of the Orchid Society of Ireland. I am so grateful to them for their immense help and knowledge, so generously shared. 

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

Marsh-orchid, Early - var pulchella
Marsh-orchid, Early - var pulchella

These wonderful Marsh-orchids are so worth seeking out, if at all possible. They are all very variable in size and there are also hybrids – just to make it difficult. When I read of the use of DNA to identify species, I wonder what hope has an amateur only armed with a hand lens. However, even if you cannot positively identify them, they are still amazing to look at.