Orchids in Iceland?!

I spotted this charmer in a little forest park outside of Ísafjorður, in the Westfjords. I was wearing contact lenses at the time so couldn’t make out any details (I usually wear glasses when I’m shooting, since I see much better close up with them). All I saw was spotted leaves and a spike with pinkish flowers. The general form made me think monocot (correct), and the spots reminded me of trout lily, so I was thinking maybe it was in the Liliaceae (wrong).

As soon as I got the pics on the computer and zoomed in I saw my mistake. This is an orchid, Dactylorhiza maculata. The English common name is heath spotted orchid. In Icelandic it’s brönugrös.


It’s one thing to have read that orchids are found the world ’round (except Antarctica), in most habitats, but quite another to trip upon one in Iceland when you aren’t expecting it. I was so happy!

In Iceland, heath spotted orchid is rather common within its range, but its range isn’t too extensive. It’s found in some coastal areas but not the central highlands. It’s a subarctic plant that ranges through northern Europe, further south in Europe in the mountains, and even parts of North Africa.

This species does not grow in North America, but three other Dactylorhiza species do, including one that’s endangered in Maryland.


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