Dactylorhiza Orchid

Dactylorhiza 'Harold Esslemont
Dactylorhiza ‘Harold Esslemont

A group of fairly hardy terrestrial (ground-dwelling) Orchids Dactylorhiza species such as Dactylorhiza fuchsii and D. maculata provide a colourful addition to the garden in spring. Dozens of species for the collector, however it is the hybrids that are mainly grown.

One of the best cultivars is Dactylorhiza ‘Harold Esslemont’ pictured right.
Spring flowering with tall flower spikes varying in color from white through the pinks to deep purple blue varieties, these orchids can be grown in the ground, or in containers.

They are a plant that requires good light, a well moist soil and not much else. If grown in containers they will need repotting every year, and dividing at the same time.

In the ground they can be left to ‘do their own thing’, or you can divide them as set out below.


Dactylorhiza species prefer a humus rich moist soil for best results. Excellent when planted on the edge of a pond. Most varieties will grow in full sun, however this is not true in hot climates.

  • Semi shade to full sun with increased moisture with increased sun.
  • A free draining compost enriched soil. Good drainage is important, however so is moisture.
  • You can grow Dactylorhiza in containers using a good humus rich soil mix.
  • Generally best suited to USDA zones 6 – 8.


  • Dactylorhiza grow from a tuber, each year the plant will produce two new tubers and the older one will die.
  • The new tubers can be divided after flowering.
  • Carefully dig, and then seperate the tubers.
  • Make sure that you have good root systems on each section.
  • Replant the new tubers with the growing tip just below the surface.
  • Water in with a liquid seaweed fertilizer.
  • You can also replant the old tuber and plant. Sometimes they will set smaller tubers. Simply cut the top off the plant and see what happens.
  • You can also propagate from seed if required.


  • Dactylorhiza aristata (Fisher’s Orchid or Key Flower)
  • Dactylorhiza foliosa (Maderian Orchid) is a popular garden species and once established is fairly hardy.
  • Dactylorhiza majalis (WesternMarsh Orchid)
  • Dactylorhiza purpurella Northern Marsh Orchid

In terms of garden species and cultivars
Dactylorhiz fuchsii and the darker flowered Dactylorhiza ‘Harold Esslemont’ are two of the best.