Thoroughly sampled molecular phylogenies of the dominantly European orchid subtribe Orchidinae were used to identify a pair and a triplet of recently diverged species in which: (1) divergence involved substantial changes in floral morphology, particularly in the labellar lobes and spur; and (2) the polarity of those changes could be inferred phylogenetically. Floral ontogeny in the selected species was documented in detail through macromorphological, light microscopic, and scanning electron microscopic study of a wide range of ontogenetic stages. All study species showed differentiation of perianth segments earlier than the gynostemium. Unsurprisingly, component parts of the basic floral organs (gymnostemial auricles and rostellum, labellar lateral lobes, and spur) were initiated relatively late, the spur and ovary continuing to expand beyond anthesis. The predominant evolutionary pattern identified in the two case studies was paedomorphosis via progenesis (earlier offset of growth); this credibly explained the reduction in spur size and lateral lobing of the labellum in Gymnadenia odoratissima and, especially, G. austriaca relative to G. conopsea. Loss of resupination in G. austriaca was best viewed as the deletion of a formerly terminal ontogenetic stage. Radical reduction of the spur of Dactylorhiza viridis relative to D. fuchsii was also attributed to progenesis, although the long, narrow outline and relatively short central lobe of its labellum were attributed to increased growth of the lateral lobes (i.e. hypermorphosis resulting in peramorphosis). Microscopic study of epidermal cell types on the labellum and spur suggested a degree of decoupling of micromorphological from macromorphological transitions, although both were subject to heterochronic shifts. Each of the two case studies was consistent with, but not proof of, saltational macroevolution operating via functional changes in one or more key developmental genes. © 2008 The Linnean Society of London, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2008, 157, 429–454.