That’s Right, Orchids in Iceland

As far as I can tell, seven species of orchid grow in Iceland. I was lucky enough to spot three of them. Here are the other two.



Dactylorhiza viridis
Coeloglossum viride)
frog orchid
Icelandic: barnarót

What a delight to find this particular species, native not only to Iceland but also North America (as far south as North Carolina in the Appalachians and New Mexico in the Rocky Mountains) and northern Asia. In Iceland it’s fairly widespread, growing in heathlands and other rich soil areas at mid elevations. I’ve seen it once before, in Catoctin Mountain Park, a rare find since it’s listed S1/Endangered in Maryland, but it wasn’t blooming then.



Platanthera hyperborea
northern green orchid,
butterfly orchid, bog orchid
Icelandic: friggjargras


Northern green orchid’s native range includes northern North America (Greenland, Canada, Alaska), parts of Asia (Korea, Japan), and of course Iceland. It’s a fairly common plant there in fertile soils, especially heathlands.

Sorry I don’t have better pictures. Guess I’ll have to go back next year and do better.

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.