General comments on the species of the genus Dactylorhiza

Most of the species in the genus Dactylorhiza was originally set in the genus Orchis. But the genus Dactylorhiza stand out clearly from the genus Orchis by studying the tubers. Tubers of Dactylorhiza are hand-lobed while the genus Orchis has round bulbs. Dactylorhiza one Eurasian distribution from Iceland and Madeira in the west, North Africa and the Himalayas in the South to the far North of Scandinavia and East Siberia where Dactylorhiza just reaches Alaska with Heath Spotted-orchid.

In Europe and in North Africa, we estimate about 60 species in the genus Dactylorhiza. Species have a thin stem with a lancet-like to the egg-shaped leaves which may be from light to dark green, and some species have purple spots on the upper side of the leaves and / or underside. Inflorescence is usually visible and free before the stem stretches out and the flowers fit tightly inflorescence. The flowers are very colourful, and usually from purple over carmine red and bright pink. Some species and varieties have yellow or white flowers.

The flowers have no nectar, but have a great look and give the impression of having nectar. There are small flies, bumblebees, bees and beetles that pollinate flowers, and these do not always see the difference between the species when several species bloom simultaneously within the same area.


 When insect carries a pollinium from one plant to another, it may happen that the insect does not go to the same species and then we can get a hybrid. Hybrids between species are not uncommon. A hybrid is usually sterile, but is fertile against parental species. Such may because plants suited to confusion and can be a problem when you’re in the field, something I as a hobby botanist have experienced countless times.

Systematics work with the genus Dactylorhiza is exceptional complicated with the rapid development taking place. A Swedish professor expressed it once as follows: “How can I tell them when they have not had enough time to decide?” Often new species have been described for the poor foundation, which in turn has led to problems with definition of species that is interpreted differently. In addition, some species show morphological differences from place to place in leaf shape, leaf spots, flower form and flower pattern, and no one is served by almost every locality has its own subspecies.

So it is easy to get confused for an amateur botanist of the species in the genus Dactylorhiza and also using foreign encyclopedias. This is because the encyclopedia may reflect botanists disagreements, and such disagreements must botanists solve.

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Dactylorhiza praetermissa in Nederland. Foto: © Karel Kreutz

Botanists have long assumed that several species of Dactylorhiza has evolved from hybrids, and recent research especially in Sweden, Denmark and England have confirmed this. These species is what we call hybrid species, where one parent is either D. maculata or D. fuchsii, and the other parent is D. incarnata. To determine this use science modern DNA techniques.

I follow the Norwegian Biodiversity Information Name list. In addition, I also included Dactylorhiza incarnata var. lobelii discussed in Lids Norwegian flora. D. praetermissa also discussed in Lids Norwegian flora, but not on Biodiversity Information Name list then it probably does not occur in Norway.