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Heath Fragrant Orchid

Gymnadenia borealis

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Orchidaceae (Orchid)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
45 centimetres tall
Bogs, grassland, heathland, meadows, mountains, roadsides, wetland.

Purple, 5 petals
The loosely flowered inflorescence is a flower spike consisting of up to 30 pinkish-purple flowers. The other species of Fragrant Orchid in the UK usually have more flowers on them.
The fruit is a capsule which produces several dust-like seeds.
A perennial plant with 3 to 5 basal leaves. The leaves are long, narrow, keeled and pointed. This is the shortest growing of the 3 Fragrant Orchids in the UK. Grows mainly in Scotland and Northern England.
The flowers are fragrant.
Other Names:
Northern Fragrant Orchid.
Frequency (UK):
Rarely seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Gymnadenia borealis, also known as the northern fragrant orchid, is a species of orchid that is native to Europe and Asia. It is a perennial herb that typically grows in damp, grassy habitats such as meadows and bogs. The plant has a single stem that can reach up to 45cm tall and bears a single, large, fragrant flower that is typically pink or white in color. The species is considered to be endangered in some areas due to habitat loss and degradation.


The Heath Fragrant Orchid, or Gymnadenia borealis, is a stunning and delicate plant that is native to the colder regions of Europe and Asia. It is a member of the orchid family, and it is known for its incredibly fragrant scent. In this blog post, we will explore the fascinating world of Gymnadenia borealis and learn more about its unique characteristics.


The Heath Fragrant Orchid is a herbaceous perennial plant that typically grows to be between 15 and 45 centimeters in height. It has a single, unbranched stem that is covered in a fine, downy pubescence. The leaves of the plant are narrow and grass-like, and they grow in a basal rosette around the stem. The flowers of the plant are small and delicate, with a distinctive pinkish-purple coloration. The flowers are arranged in a loose, cylindrical spike that rises above the foliage of the plant.


The Heath Fragrant Orchid is primarily found in the colder regions of Europe and Asia. It is most commonly found in subalpine and alpine meadows, where it grows in moist soil that is rich in organic matter. It is also sometimes found in boggy areas or near streams and rivers. The plant typically grows at elevations between 800 and 3,500 meters, and it is most commonly found in mountainous regions.


One of the most distinctive characteristics of the Heath Fragrant Orchid is its incredible fragrance. The plant produces a sweet, floral scent that is most intense in the evening and early morning. The fragrance is used to attract pollinators, such as moths and butterflies, which are attracted to the sweet smell of the flowers. The fragrance of the plant is so strong that it can often be detected from a considerable distance.

Conservation Status

The Heath Fragrant Orchid is considered to be a threatened species in many regions where it is found. The plant is highly sensitive to changes in its environment, and it is often impacted by habitat loss, climate change, and other human activities. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the Heath Fragrant Orchid as a species of "Least Concern" globally, but it is considered to be endangered or vulnerable in many of the individual countries where it is found.

In Conclusion

The Heath Fragrant Orchid is a stunning and delicate plant that is beloved by many. Its unique fragrance and delicate beauty make it a popular choice for gardeners and nature enthusiasts alike. However, it is important to remember that this plant is a threatened species, and it is important to take steps to protect it and its habitat. By raising awareness about the Heath Fragrant Orchid and supporting conservation efforts, we can help ensure that this beautiful plant continues to thrive for generations to come.

Some Facts about the Heath Fragrant Orchid

Here are some additional facts about the Heath Fragrant Orchid:

  • The Heath Fragrant Orchid is known by several other common names, including the Nordic orchid, northern fragrant orchid, and sweet scented orchid.

  • The plant is pollinated by moths and butterflies, which are attracted to its sweet fragrance. The flowers produce nectar at the base of the lip, which provides a food source for the pollinators.

  • The Heath Fragrant Orchid has a wide range, extending from Europe all the way to eastern Asia. It can be found in countries such as Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, China, and Japan.

  • The plant is adapted to survive in harsh alpine environments, where it is subject to cold temperatures, strong winds, and intense sunlight. Its long, narrow leaves help to reduce water loss through transpiration, and its deep roots help it to absorb water and nutrients from the soil.

  • The Heath Fragrant Orchid has a symbiotic relationship with fungi in the soil, which help it to absorb nutrients and water. The plant produces seeds that are coated in a substance that attracts specific types of fungi. When the seeds germinate, they form a mutually beneficial partnership with the fungi, which helps them to grow and survive.

  • The Heath Fragrant Orchid has been used in traditional medicine for a variety of purposes, including the treatment of respiratory and digestive ailments. However, the plant is not commonly used in modern medicine, and there is limited scientific research on its potential health benefits.

Additional Information about the Heath Fragrant Orchid

The Heath Fragrant Orchid is a beautiful and unique plant that has captured the attention of botanists and nature lovers for centuries. Its delicate pinkish-purple flowers and sweet fragrance make it a popular choice for gardens and floral arrangements, while its ability to survive in harsh alpine environments has made it a subject of scientific study.

However, despite its beauty and resilience, the Heath Fragrant Orchid is facing significant threats from human activities such as habitat destruction and climate change. As populations of the plant decline, it becomes even more important to protect and conserve the remaining populations. This can involve actions such as habitat restoration, limiting human access to fragile ecosystems, and monitoring populations to ensure they remain stable.

One way to support the conservation of the Heath Fragrant Orchid is to become involved in local conservation efforts. This can involve volunteering with conservation organizations, participating in citizen science projects to monitor populations of the plant, and supporting local initiatives to protect fragile ecosystems. By working together, we can help ensure that the Heath Fragrant Orchid and other threatened species continue to thrive in the wild.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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