Lapland Marsh Orchid
- Subspecies: ssp. lapponica, ssp. sphagnicola, ssp. baltica
- Family: Orchid Family – Orchidaceae
- Growing form: Perennial herb. Tubers deeply lobed.
- Height: 10–25 cm (4–10 in.). Stalk bristly, quite soft, hollow, upper part dark reddish brown.
- Flower: Irregular (zygomorphic), purple, darkly patterned, approx. 1–1.5 cm 0.4–0.6 in.) wide. Tepals 6, in 2 whorls, of which one elaborated into labellum. Labellum under perianth, spurred, dotted, lighter at base, 3-lobed tip. Spur max. same length as ovary. Androecium and gynoecium fused into a column, stamens 1, stigmas 2. Inflorescence a lax, 5–15-flowered spike.
- Leaves: Alternate, stalkless, 2–3, becoming gradually smaller towards the top. Blade narrowly elliptic–obovate, tapered tip, parallel-veined, with entire margins, dark green on top with large dark spots, grey-green on underside.
- Fruit: Capsule. Seeds minute, dust-like.
- Habitat: Fens, spring fens, mountain swamps, stream banks. Calciphile.
- Flowering time: July.
- Endangerment: Vulnerable, protected in all of Finland.
Orchid species are one of the plant kingdom’s largest families: estimations of the number of species range from 12,000 to 30,000. The Dactylorhiza genus can easily have botanists tearing their hair out. The genus and its species has only existed since the end of the last Ice Age. As the species are practically newborns, there isn’t much difference in their areas of distribution, flowering times or pollination methods. Without barriers against cross-breeding the species are unable to remain totally distinct, and the borderlines between different species are not very clear or sharp.
Lapland marsh orchid was described by Lars Leevi Laestadius, who later became better known as a preacher than a botanist, and he named it Orchis lapponica. Since that time its status has been constantly changing: after being transferred to become a member of the Dactylorhiza genus, in most cases it has been classed as narrow-leaved marsh orchid (D. traunsteineri), or sometimes western marsh orchid (D. majalis); also known as broad-leaved marsh orchid, fan orchid or common marsh orchid) or early marsh orchid (D. incarnata). Laestadius described the species on the basis of a specimen that he found in Swedish Lapland, but it grows in other parts of Lapland, too.
Dactylorhiza majalis ssp. sphagnicola (Dactylorhiza sphagnicola)
Dactylorhiza sphagnicola, which resembles early marsh orchid, narrow-leaved marsh orchid and heath spotted orchid (D. maculate, a.k.a. moorland spotted orchid) also grows in Finland. The species is not well known, but has probably spread from the south. It can be confused with e.g. heath spotted orchid, which is narrow-leaved and unspotted, apart from a spotted lip.
Dactylorhiza majalis ssp. baltica
Several Dactylorhiza species resemble heath spotted orchid so closely that one must be very exact. Baltic marsh-orchid (a subspecies of western marsh orchid) is extremely rare in the wild in Finland: the first and only known plant in the Finnish archipelago grew in Hiittinen in Dragsfjärd, on the outer island of Morgonlandet. After it was found in the summer somebody came across it and took all the flowers to put in a vase. After that a sign was put up to warn people that orchids are protected but even so – perhaps even because of this – somebody stole the whole plant, roots and all. Other individuals will probably be found however in the Baltic archipelago because western marsh orchid is regarded as having spread north to Finland under its own steam.