Early Marsh-orchid - Dactylorhiza incarnata

Alternative names
Early Marsh Orchid

A tuberous erect plant. The 4 or 5 lanceolate, yellowish green leaves sheath the stem which is usually hollow. The flowers are in a dense, terminal spike. The bracts are long, sometimes protruding beyond the flower.

Similar Species

This is a difficult genus that readily hybridises, leading to many intermediate forms; the species also exhibit a wide range of variation. Other Dactylorhiza in VC55 are Heath-spotted Orchid, Southern Marsh Orchid, Common Spotted Orchid and the hybrid between Common Spotted and Southern Marsh Orchids (D x grandis); other hybrids within Dactylorhiza are possible where both parents grow together.

Several subspecies of D incarnata have been named.

Identification difficulty
ID guidance

Stem usually hollow (feel this by gently compressing the lower stem between finger and thumb; no need to pick the flower!).  Leaves usually unspotted; labellum (lower lip) with sides turned back and so appearing very narrow from front; usually 2 distinct dark loop-marks side by side.   Flowers usually paler pink than Southern Marsh Orchid, and often appear slightly salmon in colour

Recording advice

Details of flowers


Wet meadows.

When to see it

Flowers May to July.

Life History


UK Status

Widespread but not particularly frequent, scarce in the far north

VC55 Status

Rare in Leicestershire and Rutland. It was not recorded in the 1979 Flora survey of Leicestershire.

In the current checklist (Jeeves 2011) it is listed as Native; rare; few recent records.

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Leicestershire & Rutland Map


Yellow squares = NBN records (all known data)
Coloured circles = NatureSpot records: 2020+ | 2015-2019 | pre-2015

UK Map