Orchis ustulata

Tracheophyta MagnoliopsidaOrchidaceaeOrchisOrchis ustulata


This tuberous perennial herb requires warm, dry conditions and is often found in tightly grazed chalk and limestone grassland on S.-facing slopes. It also occurs on sandy and gravelly soils in river meadows and on sand dunes. Lowland.



World Distribution

European Temperate element.

© K.J. Walker, BSBI

Broad Habitats

Calcareous grassland (includes lowland and montane types)

Light (Ellenberg): 8

Moisture (Ellenberg): 4

Reaction (Ellenberg): 8

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 2

Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 3.5

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 15.7

Annual Precipitation (mm): 777

Height (cm): 15

Perennation - primary


Life Form - primary

Non-bulbous geophyte (rhizome, corm or tuber)



Clonality - primary

Little or no vegetative spread

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 265

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0

Atlas Change Index: -1.77

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Orchis ustulata L.

Burnt orchid

Status: scarce


Confined to base-rich substrates, this is a plant of short, well-grazed limestone and chalk downland turf, particularly where there is a warm and sunny, more or less southerly, aspect, It often grows in association with Orchis morio as well as with other small herbs such as Anthyllis vulneraria, Gentianella spp., Polygala spp., Sanguisorba minor, Primula veris and Rhinanthus minor. It is not a strong competitor and may eventually be shaded out if the habitat is left ungrazed, although there are instances where plants have survived for considerable periods in quite tall meadowland.

Reproduction is by seed, but up to ten years may elapse before maturity and flowering. Further reproduction can occur through the mature plant's formation of secondary rhizomes, with small clusters of plants resulting.

The number of populations has decreased in the last fifty years mainly through adverse agricultural practices, such as ploughing, failure to maintain suitable grazing regimes, and the use of artificial fertilisers and herbicides. Encroachment by building and destruction of sites through quarrying have also contributed to the loss. It is now a very scarce plant although in Wiltshire it can occur in populations of considerable size; one of these is thought to be amongst the largest still surviving in western Europe. For a summary of the results of a detailed survey of its British distribution, see Foley (1992).

O. ustulata is found throughout most of central Europe and eastwards to beyond the Urals. It extends northwards to southern Scandinavia and southwards to the Mediterranean. 

In southern England there occurs a form which flowers in July, much later than the normal late-May, but is otherwise doubtfully distinct from it. It is usually found in quite separate populations from the normal form and its origins are obscure, although there may be an ecological influence. It is also known from Europe where it has been described as subsp. aestivalis and has recently been studied in detail (Kümpel & Mrkvicka 1990). The totally white-flowered var. albiflora occurs very rarely in Britain.


M. J. Y. Foley

Atlas text references

Atlas (340a)
Hultén E, Fries M
1986.  Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols.
Jenkinson MN
1991.  Wild orchids of Dorset.
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.