A tuberous perennial herb of damp to dry, base-rich to mildly acidic soils. It is most frequent in hay meadows and pastures, but also grows on sand dunes, heaths and roadsides, and in quarries, gravel-pits, churchyards and lawns. 0-305 m (Co. Dublin).
The steady decline of this species due to the ploughing and improvement of grasslands has taken place throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. It is often present in only small numbers in 10-km squares where it was once more frequent. Molecular studies indicate that it may be more appropriately placed in Anacamptis (Bateman et al., 1997).
European Temperate element.
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 931
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 124
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 8
Atlas Change Index: -0.98
Scarce Atlas Account
Orchis morio L.
Status: not scarce
A plant of short damp and dry open lowland grassland. The orchid tolerates a wide range of soil conditions and grassland management. Soils in which it is found range from base-rich to base-poor and from open seasonally parched grasslands to wet alluvial soils and gleyed clays. Grassland management varies from traditionally cut hay meadows, seasonally grazed heavy clay pastures and extensively grazed unenclosed pastures which are open to livestock throughout the year. The species is usually regarded as a strong indicator of old agriculturally unimproved grasslands and is predominantly found in these situations. A number of colonies, however, have become established within relatively recently disturbed swards, particularly on freely draining nutrient-poor soils.
O. morio is a monocarpic perennial, which reproduces by seed. Plants can persist in a vegetative state for many years if the inflorescences are removed by mowing or grazing, eventually flowering and fruiting when this pressure is released.
This plant was formerly widespread and common throughout the lowlands of the south and east. It has declined since 1950 as many pastures have been ploughed and the remainder are much more intensively managed. The distribution of the species in many counties is now limited to nature reserves and other sites specifically managed for nature conservation. The distribution map belies the fact that within each 10 km square where the species is known to persist, the number of sites may have declined dramatically.
This species is found in Europe, western Asia and North Africa, extending north to Scotland and the southernmost areas of Scandinavia. The British plant is subsp. morio, which tends to be replaced by other subspecies towards the southern and eastern edge of its range.
Whilst there is an ineradicable public perception of the rarity of orchids, this `rare' species is far more widespread and abundant than many other less obviously attractive and emotive plants.
PLANTATT - Attributes of British and Irish plants. (.zip 1455KB) This dataset was compiled and published in 2004, and last updated in November 2008. Download includes an Excel spreadsheet of the attributes, and a PDF explaining the background and nomenclature. Note that the PDF version is the booklet as published, whereas the Excel spreadsheet incorporates subsequent corrections. A hardcopy can be purchased from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
Atlas text references
Atlas (340b) Curtis TGF, McGough HN.
1988. The Irish Red Data Book. 1. Vascular Plants. Hultén E, Fries M.
1986. Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols. Meusel H, Jäger E, Weinert E.
1965. Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 1. 2 vols. Sanford M.
1991. The orchids of Suffolk. Stewart A, Pearman DA, Preston CD.
1994. Scarce plants in Britain. Wells TCE, Rothery P, Cox R, Bamford S.
1998. Flowering dynamics of Orchis morio L. and Herminium monorchis (L.) R. Br. at two sites in eastern England. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. 126:39-48.