Wednesday 31 December 2014

Plant of the Year 2014: Dactylorhiza × grandis

Dactylorhiza ×grandis from Blackthorn Nursery, in the garden border June 2014.
 My Plant of the Year 2014 is the hybrid marsh orchid, Dactylorhiza ×grandis, which impressed me this year in many places, wild and cultivated, during its flowering season of May and June. Typically a robust plant with big spikes of deep pink to purplish flowers, it can be an excellent garden plant whether grown in the border, as the clump illustrated above is, or naturalized in a meadow situation.

Dactylorhiza ×grandis is a hybrid between the Southern Marsh Orchid  (D. praetermissa) and the Common Spotted Orchid (D. fuchsii) and is usually present where they grow together. The name is applicable to any derivative of the cross and as plants have some fertility, and almost certainly backcross to either of the parents, a swarm of intermediates can develop within a population, making interpretation challenging at times. To help decipher it, here are pure examples of the parents, and then some hybrids.

Dactylorhiza praetermissa, showing the typically wedge-shaped lips with a central band of spots/. The flowers are usually a deep purple (this is a pale example) and contribute rich colours to the hybrid.  The leaves usually lack spots. (Yorkshire Arboretum June 2013)

Dactylorhiza fuchsii is much paler in colour, with a strongly three-lobed lip decorated by dark lines and loops. Leaves are usually spotted. (Wharram Quarry June 2014)

A swarm of parents and hybrids: the very dark spikes are D. praetermissa, pale ones D. fuchsii with intermediate hybrids in darker pink (e.g. fourth from left along the lower edge of the image). (Roadside verge A166, E. Yorks, June 2014)

A ×grandis that is close to D. praetermissa, with only slightly lobed lips, but with a more elaborate pattern of dots and dashes. (Yorkshire Arboretum June 2014)

A very robust hybrid with well-developed lip markings but also less lobing than in D. fuchsii.

A good dark-flowered hybrid, with attractively spotted leaves, and an obliging clumping habit. (A166 verge, June 2014)

 D. ×grandis growing in the meadow at The Garden House, Devon, surrounded by classic meadow plants (late May 2014).

Both parents, and the hybrid, are available from specialist nurseries and are well worth acquiring and planting close together; if conditions are right a swarm of hybrids is bound to result.

No hybrids, just a wonderful stand of Dactylorhiza fuchsii at Chatsworth, June 2014.


  1. I found your post very interesting because the orchids you describe grow wild in some rough pasture very near to my house. In fact I have been lucky enough to have a colony of these orchids in my back garden (probably from the seeds blown in from this pasture) and every year I always have some surprises as to where these orchids spring up around the garden (as seen in some of my earlier posts.)

  2. Wonderful photographs of these wild orchids. In Spain I have photographed several species of the genus, but never this beautiful hybrid. Best regards

  3. thanks for your information, and your picture very beautifull


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