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Military Orchid
Orchis militaris

Once thought to be extinct in the UK, the Military Orchid was 'rediscovered' in 1947 although the site was kept secret for a long time. Today Orchis militaris is found in three sites in the UK, two of which are open to the public. Its conservation status in the UK is Nationally Rare and listed as vulnerable. The shape of the flower, from which this orchid gets both its scientific and common names, resembles a tiny human figure that appears to wearing a helmet formed by the sepals and petals. Orchis militaris flowers from mid-May to the end of June in limestone-rich woodlands, woodland edges, old pastures and scrub. The Military Orchid is widespread in many other European countries.

Distribution Map Key Features
distribution map

Records for the Military Orchid from BSBI are shown on the map with most recent in front. (Hover the mouse over the small map to expand it.)

CLICK HERE to visit the BSBI website page for updated data and maps with separated data for individual record periods

Plant: 20-60cm but commonly up to 45cm.
Leaves: Bright green and shiny, keeled and somewhat hooded at the tip. 2-5 form a basal rosette and there are 2-3 sheathing the stem.
Bracts: none
Flowers: The flowerhead can carry up to 60 flowers and changes in shape from conical to cylindrical as the flowers open. The overall impression of the colour of the flowers is pink but, on close inspection, the outer parts of the sepals are pale grey and the lip of the flower is white with many dark pink-purple markings. The lip is deeply lobed and this forms the legs of the tiny human figure shape of the flower.

Image Gallery for Military Orchid Orchis militaris

Pollination Taxonomy & Hybrids

Military Orchid is pollinated by various small bees and flies, but it relies on deception as the plants do not produce nectar as an enticement. Growth from seed is unreliable, and so vegetative reproduction is important for the survival of plants in the UK.

There are reports of the hybrid with the Monkey Orchid Orchis simia (Orchis x beyrichii) being found in Oxfordshire in the 19th century.

Articles about Military Orchid in JHOS