Early Purple Orchid

Common name:
Early Purple Orchid
Orchis macula
Magairlín meidhreach
Flowering period:
April to May
Limestone pavement with calcareous grasslands, roadside verges
Conservation Status:
Locally abundant throughout the Burren

Early Purple orchid (pale pink variety), the first of many beautiful wild orchids to bloom in the Burren, catch it now before it disappears until next year!.

Short description: 

A welcome sign of Spring, this beautiful purple orchid is one of the first orchids to flower in the Burren, adding eye catching dashes of  much needed colour to the vegetation after the long winter.

Noteworthy characteristics

The beauty of this striking purple orchid is further enhanced against the backdrop of Burren limestone.  Individual flowers are arranged loosely along solid fleshy stems. Following pollination these flowers give off a tom-cat odour especially at night.  Shiny dark green leaves arise from a basal rosette and are often spotted with  purple patches running in a  lengthwise direction.  Pure white versions of this orchid can be found in the Burren.

Uses and other points of interest:

Since ancient times the tuberous roots of orchids are reputed to be an aphrodisiac, the Irish word for orchid magairlín, means ‘little testicle’.  A name which refers to the testicle-like shape of its root tubers..

‘It was said that if men eat the largest roots, they will beget sons  and if women eat the smallest roots they shall bring forth daughters’

It has been recorded for use in love potions in Ireland in the past and also in the treatment of sterility, tuberculosis and diarrhoea.

A famous drink called Salep was made in the seventeen hundreds using Early purple orchid  roots mixed with honey and spices .  This restorative tonic was sold at coffee houses in London and other parts of Europe. This use continued through to the 1950’s.  Such popular use saw a gradual decline of Early Purple Orchid in  the wild

Like all other wild plants of the Burren, orchids are best viewed in their natural habitat. If removed from their local environment they will not succeed as they survive through a complex relationship with the many fungi found in the soil in which they grow.


Personal note

This beautiful orchid marks the beginning of Spring  for me in the Burren and reminds me of the many more wonderful orchids to follow and bloom throughout the growing season


Locally abundant throughout Ireland, on the decline in some areas due to loss of habitat




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