The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc.

Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States

Lesser Purple Fringed Orchid

Common Name
Lesser Purple Fringed Orchid (Smaller Purple Fringed Orchid)


Scientific Name
Platanthera psycodes (L.) Lindl.


Plant Family
Orchid (Orchidaceae)

Garden Location
Not Extant - Historical Garden Plant - 1908


Prime Season
Late Summer Flowering



The Lesser Purple Fringed Orchid is a wonderful sight to see in late summer, blooming on a stout stem of 1 to 3 feet in height. It is similar to the Larger Purple Fringed Orchid, P. grandiflora, but has a narrower width to the inflorescence and smaller flowers.

The leaves are stalkless stem leaves, larger toward the base of the stem, lanceolate in shape but more oval than the Northern Green Orchid, P. aquilonis. They are ascending to recurving and scattered along the stem, reducing to bracts in the inflorescence.

The inflorescence is a dense cylindrical spike (a raceme) of many short stalked flowers atop the stem.

The flowers are a rose purple, sometimes but rarely, white, opening from the bottom upward on the raceme. There are three sepals, one forming a hood over reproductive parts, and two lateral at the back of the flower spreading outward. There are three petals - two, with fringed edges, pointing outward and upward from under the central sepal and the third growing outward and downward forming the larger fan shaped fringed lower lip which gives the flower a delicate appearance. This lower lip is deeply 3-lobed with fringes. The lobes of the rostellum (the part of the flower column that separates the male stamen from the female reproductive parts) are short, rounded, and in lateral view nearly parallel and directed downward. This characteristic helps distinguish this species from several others that have fringed lobes on similar colored petals, particularly the Larger Purple Fringed Orchid, P. grandiflora, where the rostellum lobes are spreading and angular in lateral view. The flowers are 3/4 inch long. Each flower is stalked and subtended by a small green bract.


Habitat: The plants habitat is wet meadows, woody swamps, stream banks and low open woods where there is plenty of sunlight.

Names: Previous botanical classifications have listed this species as Habenaria psychodes and Orchis psycodes. The newer genus name Platanthera is derived from the Greek platys meaning 'broad or flat', and anthera for 'anther', combined - a flat or broad anther, which is the characteristic of this genus. The species name psycodes, means 'butterfly like', referring the spreading fringed petals.

The author names for the plant classification are: First to classify was '(L.)' which refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy. He published in 1753 with the name Orchis psycodes. Kurt Sprengel (1766-1833) put the plant into Habenaria psychodes but his work was amended in 1835 to the current name by ‘Lindl.’ which is for John Lindley (1799-1865), English botanist who authored or co-authored a number of articles and books on plants, some with his own colored engravings, particularly interested in roses and orchids; active member of the Royal Horticultural Society, University professor.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

Lesser Purple Fringed Orchid drawing

Above: The inflorescence is a dense cylindrical spike (a raceme) of many short stalked flowers atop the stem. Drawing from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.

Below: The fragrant flowers of P. psycodes have a fringed 3-lobe lower lip which is one of the 3 petals of the flower.

Lesser Purple Fringed Orchid inflorescence Lesser Purple Fringed Orchid flower

Below: 1st photo - Detail of the fringed 3-lobe lower lip. The other 2 much smaller petals, with fringed edges, flare up and out from under the upper sepal that forms the hood. The rostellum sits just above where the 3 lobes unite. 2nd & 3rd photos - The stem leaves, which are more broadly oval than those of the Northern Green Orchid, P. hyperborea. The Platanthera genus usually has 2 to 4 stem leaves.

Lesser Purple Fringed Orchid flower Lesser Purple Fringed Orchid stemLesser Purple Fringed Orchid leaf


Notes: Eloise Butler planted Lesser Purple Fringed Orchid in the Garden on Sept. 6, 1908 with plants from Cambridge, Nova Scotia which she acquired on her mid-summer trip to visit her sister, Cora, on the east coast. It was on this trip that she visited the Wild Botanic Garden of George Upram Hay at Ingleside, New Brunswick - a garden of the same conceptual idea as hers in Glenwood Park, but eight years older. Details here. She planted more on Sept. 4, 1909 with species brought back from Winter Pond, MA while on a similar summer trip. In April 1918 12 more came from Gillett's Nursery in Southwick MA and in August that year one from Lake Margaret at Pequot MN. Two plantings totaled 16 in 1920, both from Gillett's. More were added in 1921 '25, '26, '27, and '30. Martha Crone planted 3 specimens on Sept. 27, 1934, but did not list her source. She added more in 1948 and 1956. In those days both curators used the older scientific name Habenaria psychodes. This species was listed in Martha Crone's 1951 Garden census

In North America the range of Lesser Purple Fringed Orchid is from Manitoba - Minnesota - Iowa - Missouri eastward to the east coast and down as far as Georgia. In nine of those states it is listed as endangered or threatened, including Iowa where it is on the threatened list. In Minnesota it is restricted in range to the counties of the NE quadrant down to the metro area, and a few in SE Corner.

For an article on all the orchids in the Garden, past and present, see this article.

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

graphicIdentification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.