Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Dactylorhizas along with Aciphylla aurea
Self sown dactylorhiza
     Dactylorhizas are hardy terrestrial orchids native to Europe and the UK.  When I was about 8 years old, our family, which was living in Lebanon at the time, took a trip to Turkey. While I have no independent recollection of this, my father took home movies on the trip and one of the scenes is of my sister posing in a field of dactylorhizas.  In the movie there were dactylorhizas as far as the eye could see.  It was quite a sight, but I didn't realize how cool it was until I started growing these wonderful plants. 
     Of the hardy orchids I have grown, these have done the best and seem to be the easiest to cultivate.  I have had them in my garden for more than 15 years and they have been fruitful and multiplied.  I think I originally got some from Kelly Dodson who now has Far Reaches Farm which I mentioned in my entry on Nomocharis.  Anyway,  I got a clone from him that he calls Bressingham Bonus, and it has been a very good grower and multiplier.  I have given away more of this plant than I can remember, so hopefully all sorts of gardens in the area now have it growing.  Bressingham Bonus has the deep magenta flowers that I love, and it doubles in size every year.  I periodically divide these plants which is how I have ended up with so many.
     I have also gotten a number of dactylorhizas from other sources over the years.  Heronswood had many good clones and I have all of those in my garden now.  One of those is pictured in the top photo above.  I do not know its name, but it differs slightly from Bressingham Bonus in that the leaves are more spotted and the flowers bloom slightly later.  It is also not quite so large a plant and not quite as fast a multiplier.  Another one that I got from Heronswood, while it does not have the spotted leaves which everyone likes in dactylorhizas, is quite tall, 2 or 3 feet and has a very large and deeply colored flower.  Perhaps the most special one from Heronswood is one that has very heavily spotted leaves.  In fact, the most coveted Dactylorhizas are ones where the leaves are so spotted that they look dark.  I once saw one like this in a private garden near here, and Paul Christian once had this listed in their catalogue.  If I ever see it again, I will snap it up. 
     While dactylorhizas are supposed to be hard to grow from seed, they self sow with abandon.  I have them coming up in my lawn and in the beds where they have been planted.  For some reason, about half of these self sown seedlings have white flowers.  To me this is a disappointment, because I am not a fan of white flowers. No white garden for me!  The single flower in the second photo above is a self sown seedling which placed itself in the skirts of a Japanese maple. What a fortuitous placement! 
     Some of the self sown seedlings also have very spotted leaves and I am hoping to get one that is completely dark one day. I often walk around my lawn looking closely to see if I can find one that has heavy spotting on the leaves.  Dactylorhizas probably do so well in the lawn because it is constantly moist, and they are native to wet meadows.  In the garden, the best place to grow them is in light shade or open shade in good, moist soil.  They do not do well in dark shade or in tree root infested areas.  That said, I have had them self sow in the most unlikely places in the garden.  Here in the Pacific Northwest they can take a lot of sun provided the soil is sufficiently moist.
     Dactylorhiza clumps should be divided every 4 or 5 years.  Otherwise, the roots will get too congested and they will decline.  I was just reading an interesting entry on dactylorhiaza in Ian Young's Bulb Log on the Scottish Rock Garden Society's website where he states that in the wild dactylorhizas don't clump up much, because in the long term the clumpers would not suvive because of the crowding of the roots.  If you have not yet discovered Ian Young's Bulb Log, you are in for a treat.
     I have seen advice on the internet to divide your dactylorhizas in July after they have flowered.  I have never done this because I like to let them go to seed.  If you are a neat freak and deadhead your dactylorhizas you will not get self sown seedlings.  That should go without saying.  Instead, I divide them in the spring when I  first see their snouts poking above the ground.  This timing has been just fine, judging by how well my plants have done. 

1 comment:

  1. So happy to have stumbled upon your blog. Great plant information and stunning photography.