Orchis mascula

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Orchis mascula
Orchis mâle (Orchis mascula) 02.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Asparagales
Family: Orchidaceae
Subfamily: Orchidoideae
Genus: Orchis
O. mascula
Binomial name
Orchis mascula
(L.) L.

Orchis mascula, the early-purple orchid,[1] early spring orchis, is a species of flowering plant in the orchid family, Orchidaceae.


Orchis mascula is a perennial herbaceous plant with stems up to 50–60 centimetres (20–24 in) high, green at the base and purple on the apex. The root system consists of two tubers, rounded or ellipsoid. The leaves, grouped at the base of the stem, are oblong-lanceolate, pale green, sometimes with brownish-purple speckles. The inflorescence is 7.5–12.5 centimetres (3–5 in) long and it is composed of 6 to 20 flowers gathered in dense cylindrical spikes. The flower size is about 2.5 centimetres (1 in) and the color varies from pinkish-purple to purple.[2]: 878  The lateral sepals are ovate-lanceolate and erect, the median one, together with the petals, is smaller and cover the gynostegium. The labellum is three-lobed and convex, with crenulated margins and the basal part clearer and dotted with purple-brown spots. The spur is cylindrical or clavate, horizontal or ascending. The gynostegium is short, with reddish-green anthers. It blooms from April to June.

Close-up of a flower
Distinctive spotted foliage in some specimens


This orchid is devoid of nectar and attracts pollinating insects (bees and wasps of the genera Apis, Bombus, Eucera, Andrena, Psithyrus and Xylocopa, and sometimes beetles) with the appearance of its flower which mimics other species.

Orchids in the genus Orchis form mycorrhizal partnerships mainly with fungi in the family Tulasnellaceae.[3] Orchis mascula has been suggested to have only one mycorrhizal partner, in the Tulasnellaceae.[4]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The species is widespread across Europe, from Portugal to the Caucasus (Ireland, Great Britain, The Faroe Islands, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Spain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Italy, former Yugoslavia, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Ukraine, most of Russia), in northwest Africa (Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco) and in the Middle East (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq) up to Iran.[5] (Codes)[6]

It grows in a variety of habitats, from meadows to mountain pastures and woods, in full sun or shady areas, from sea level to 2,500 metres (8,000 ft) altitude.


The specific epithet is derived from the Latin masculus, meaning "male" or "virile"; this could refer to the robust aspect of this species, or to the shape of the two tubers, which resemble testicles.


As of June 2014, the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families recognizes five subspecies:[7]

  • Orchis mascula subsp. ichnusae Corrias
  • Orchis mascula subsp. laxifloriformis Rivas Goday & B.Rodr. (including O. langei, O. mascula subsp. hispanica)
  • Orchis mascula subsp. mascula (including O. mascula subsp. pinetorum)
  • Orchis mascula subsp. scopulorum (Summerh.) H.Sund. ex H.Kretzschmar, Eccarius & H.Dietr.
  • Orchis mascula subsp. speciosa (Mutel) Hegi


Cultivation and uses[edit]

A flour called salep or sachlav is made of the ground tubers of this or some other species of orchids. It contains a nutritious starch-like polysaccharide called glucomannan. In some magical traditions, its root is called Adam and Eve Root. It is said that witches used tubers of this orchid in love potions.

Culture and symbolism[edit]

It is referred to as "long purple" by Gertrude in Shakespeare's Hamlet. Gertrude: "There with fantastic garlands did she come Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples, that liberal shepherds give a grosser name, but our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them;".[9] Among other common names it has been called 'Gethsemane' https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1365-2745.2008.01473.x#b29. (Foley and Clarke 2005, Orchids of the British Isles).


  1. ^ BSBI List 2007 (xls). Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2015-06-26. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  2. ^ Stace, C. A. (2010). New Flora of the British Isles (Third ed.). Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521707725.
  3. ^ Molecular Ecology - Low specificity and nested subset structure characterize mycorrhizal associations in five closely related species of the genus Orchis
  4. ^ Journal of Ecology - Orchid coexistence and mycorrhizal associations
  5. ^ "World Checklist of Selected Plant Families".
  6. ^ "World Checklist of Selected Plant Families TDWG Geocodes" (PDF).
  7. ^ "Search for Orchis mascula", World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, retrieved 2014-06-29
  8. ^ Synonyms in The Internet Orchid Species Photo Encyclopedia
  9. ^ Shakespeare, William (2003-04-21). Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. ISBN 9780521532525.
  • Pierre Delforge - Orchids of Europe, North Africa And the Middle East - 2006, Timber Press
  • Pignatti S. - Flora d'Italia (3 voll.) - Edagricole – 1982, Vol. III
  • Tutin, T.G. et al. - Flora Europaea, second edition - 1993

External links[edit]