Open the Advanced Search

Lesser Butterfly Orchid

Platanthera bifolia

Please keep in mind that it is illegal to uproot a plant without the landowner's consent and care should be taken at all times not to damage wild plants. Wild plants should never be picked for pleasure and some plants are protected by law.
For more information please download the BSBI Code of Conduct PDF document.


Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Orchidaceae (Orchid)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
30 centimetres tall
Bogs, fens, grassland, heathland, meadows, moorland, wetland, woodland.

White, 5 petals
This plant has flowers which appear in a single spike. The flowers are slightly tinged green and are almost 2cm across. Butterfly Orchids are so named because of the shape of their flowers. The flowers are said to resemble butterflies. The spur on the flower is less curved than that of the almost identical flower, Greater Butterfly Orchid.
A veined capsule filled with many minute dust-like seeds.
Two opposite broad basal leaves with parallel veins.
Just like the Greater Butterfly Orchid, the Lesser Butterfly Orchid is vanilla-scented but the smell of this flower is stronger than that of Greater Butterfly Orchid. The scent appears at night time attracting moths such as the Elephant Hawk Moth.
Other Names:
Northern Green Orchid.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Platanthera bifolia is a species of orchid that is native to North America and Europe. It is commonly known as the "lesser butterfly orchid" or "northern green orchid", and typically grows in moist meadows, bogs, and fens. It has large, white, fragrant flowers that bloom in the summer and are attractive to butterflies and other pollinators. The plant is considered a threatened species in many areas due to habitat loss and overcollection.


The Lesser Butterfly Orchid, also known as Platanthera bifolia, is a beautiful and delicate orchid species that is native to Europe and Asia. This small orchid is a member of the genus Platanthera, which is a group of orchids that are commonly referred to as the "butterfly orchids" due to their striking resemblance to the graceful wings of butterflies.

The Lesser Butterfly Orchid typically grows to a height of between 10 and 30 centimeters, with slender stems that bear a cluster of delicate white flowers. The flowers themselves are small and dainty, with a distinctive shape that gives them their butterfly-like appearance. The petals are narrow and elongated, with a slightly curved shape that tapers to a point at the tip. The lip of the flower is also elongated, with a fringed edge that gives it a delicate, lacy appearance.

This beautiful orchid species can be found growing in a wide range of habitats, including meadows, woodlands, and hedgerows. It is particularly well-adapted to growing in areas of grassland that are grazed by animals, as the regular disturbance of the soil helps to maintain open ground and prevent the encroachment of other plants.

The Lesser Butterfly Orchid is a perennial plant that blooms from May to August. It is a popular ornamental plant in gardens and is frequently used in wildflower meadows and other naturalistic planting schemes. However, it is important to note that this orchid species is protected by law in many countries and is considered to be endangered in some areas due to habitat loss and the destruction of grasslands.

In addition to its ornamental value, the Lesser Butterfly Orchid also has some medicinal uses. In traditional medicine, the roots of the plant are used to treat a range of ailments, including digestive disorders, fever, and inflammation. However, it is important to note that the plant contains several toxic compounds and should only be used under the guidance of a qualified healthcare practitioner.

The Lesser Butterfly Orchid is a stunningly beautiful and fascinating plant species that is well worth seeking out if you have an interest in orchids or wildflowers. With its delicate, butterfly-like flowers and its adaptability to a wide range of growing conditions, this orchid species is sure to capture your heart and your imagination.

The Lesser Butterfly Orchid is a perennial plant that typically grows from a small underground tuber. The leaves of the plant are narrow and lance-shaped, with a bright green color and a slightly glossy sheen. The stems are slender and wiry, and they are typically unbranched or only slightly branched. The flowers themselves are produced in a cluster at the top of the stem, with each flower measuring between 10 and 15 millimeters in length.

Like many orchid species, the Lesser Butterfly Orchid is dependent on specific pollinators for successful reproduction. In the case of this plant, the primary pollinators are moths, particularly species of the hawk moth family. These moths are attracted to the orchid's flowers by the scent of their nectar, which has a sweet, vanilla-like fragrance. The moths then help to transfer pollen between the flowers as they feed, ensuring that the plant is able to produce seeds and continue its life cycle.

In the wild, the Lesser Butterfly Orchid is under threat from habitat loss and fragmentation, particularly as a result of agricultural intensification and the conversion of grasslands to other land uses. In some areas, the plant is also vulnerable to over-collection by collectors and enthusiasts. As a result, the species is listed as a protected species under national and international legislation in many countries.

Despite these threats, there are a number of measures that can be taken to help conserve this beautiful orchid species. These include the creation of new wildflower meadows and grasslands, the restoration of degraded habitats, and the protection of existing populations through legal and management measures. In addition, conservationists are also working to raise awareness of the plight of the Lesser Butterfly Orchid and other threatened plant species, and to promote their conservation and protection through education and outreach activities.

In conclusion, the Lesser Butterfly Orchid is a stunningly beautiful and fascinating plant species that is well worth exploring and learning about. With its delicate, butterfly-like flowers, its unique ecological adaptations, and its cultural and medicinal significance, this orchid species represents a valuable and important part of our natural heritage. By working to protect and conserve this species and others like it, we can help to ensure that future generations are able to enjoy the beauty and wonder of the natural world.


Video 1: Lesser Butterfly Orchids filmed near Scout Scar, Kendal, Cumbria on the 3rd June 2022.


Video 2: Lesser Butterfly Orchids also filmed near Scout Scar, Kendal, Cumbria on the 3rd June 2022.


Please remember to Like and Subscribe to the WildFlowerWeb YouTube channel at

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

Click to open an Interactive Map