This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
Like other Orchids this is known only from its modern distribution, which is the North Temperate Zone in Europe, N. Africa, and W. Siberia.
It is found in every county in Great Britain, except Glamorgan, S. Lines, Isle of Man, Peebles, E. Sutherland, as far north as the Shetlands. It grows up to a height of 1500 ft. in the Lake District, and in Ireland and the Channel Islands.
This fine tall Orchid is a regular woodland species growing in clumps beneath the trees in the deepest shade in woods, copses, and plantations, and is strictly a shade lover like Dog's Mercury and Lords and Ladies, which grow side by side with it. It may also be found in pastures, but less commonly. The usual meadow Orchid taken for small forms of the Purple Orchid is the Green-winged Orchid (O. Morio). Its occurrence in meadows indicates former woodland.
From a tuberous base the stem rises erect, tall and graceful. The leaves are broad, spotted, oblong, narrowly elliptical, blunt. The stem is naked above and purple. The central vein in the leaves projects sharply below. The bracts are as long as the ovary, purple, narrowly elliptical, membranous, with twisted tips, nerved.
The flowers are deep-purple, large, in a loose spike. The lip has rounded teeth, and is 3-lobed, as broad as long, with the margin bent back, the spur longer than the ovary, and ascending. The 2 outer sepals are acute, and bent back upwards.
The Purple Orchid is 1 ft. to 18 in. high, and the flowers are in bloom from April to May. It is perennial, propagated by division of the tubers.
The 3 sepals and 2 upper petals arch over the stigma. The lip is adapted for an alighting place, and is prolonged backwards to form a hollow spur with walls of delicate tissue.
The stigma is just above the spur, with inferior lobes which are stigmatic surfaces, and the third forms the beak, full of clammy fluid, projecting into the mouth of the spur. The 2 lateral anthers are sterile scales, and the perfect one stands above the beak. The two cells are separated by a broad process connecting the anther cells with the filament, splitting longitudinally, and within lie the two masses of pollen grains, attached only by threads and adhering to the upper surface of the beak. When an insect thrusts its head into the spur it touches the beak, when the covering membrane splits, and curls back, and two small disks connected with the caudicles or stalks which bear the pollen masses, coated with sticky matter below, stick to the insect's head, and the fluid hardens like cement. The insect when quitting the flower bears the pollinia attached to the disks away on its head. The pollinia are at first erect, but when the disks dry they bend forward into an almost horizontal position, so that in visiting another flower they come in contact with the stigma, and cross-pollination is the natural result.
This Orchid is visited by the Humble bee Bombus pratorum, the flies Empis livida, E. pennipes, Volucella bombylans, Eristalis horticola.
Photo. Flatters & Garnett - Purple Orchis (Orchis mascu!a, L.)
The seeds being light and small are dispersed by the wind.
The Purple Orchid is a peat plant, and requires humus soil.
A fly, Parallelomma albiceps, is found on it.
Orchis, Theophrastus, is from a Greek word orchis, used for plants with a tuberous root.
The plant is called Drake's-feet, Frogwort, Gandergoose, Gandi gosling, Gethsemane, Geuky-ilower, Giddy Gander, Goosie gander, Gowk Meat, Gramfer-greygles, Red Granfer gregors, Slander Grass, Greygles, Gussets, Kettle Case, Kettle Pad, King Finger, Long Pur-ples, Man Orchis, Nightcap, Poor Man's Blood, Priest's Pintle, Purples, Rag-wort, Red Butcher, Red-lead, Ring Finger, Salep, Scab - gowks, Single Castle, Single - grass, Skeat - legs, Snake Flower, Soldiers' Jackets, etc.
The Purple Orchid is called Gethsemane because it was said to have grown at the foot of the Cross, and received drops of blood on its leaves.
The name Lover's Wanton is explained thus: "Rustics believe that if you take the proper half of the root of an Orchis and get anyone of the opposite sex to eat it, it will produce a powerful affection for you, while the other half will produce as strong an aversion".
Then round the meddowes did she walke, Catching each flower by the stalke; Such as within the meddowes grew, As dead men's thumb and harebell blew.
The tubers are so called from their reddish colour. Skeat-legs, seaet meaning a swathing, refers to the sheathing leaves. The dark flower spikes were called Adam, the pale ones Eve, hence the name Adam and Eve. Children say the roots (tubers) were once the thumb of some unburied murderer, and call them Bloody Man's Thumb. There was a belief that Orchids sprang from the seed of the blackbird or thrush.
Photo. Matson - Purple Orchis (Orchis mascula, L.)
Jalep (Salep) was made from the tubers, and was much used in the East. The substance it contains is bassorine, which replaces the starch, and is dried and ground into powder.
Essential Specific Characters: 291. Orchis mascula, L. - Aerial stem a scape, tall, leaves radical, lanceolate, with purple spots, flowers purple, in a lax spike, 2 sepals, reflexed upwards, acute, lip tri-lobed, bracts veined.