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Monkey Orchid
Orchis simia

The Monkey Orchid is extremely rare; its range in Britain is confined to three sites, one in Oxfordshire and two in Kent. It is classified as vulnerable under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. The common name derives from the flower's resemblance to a tiny Spider Monkey: the hood of the flower is the monkey's head and the slender, curly lobes of the lip resemble the arms and legs. Always localised, this orchid has suffered major decline due to the ploughing up of chalk downland and grazing by rabbits.The flowering time of Orchis simia in Britain is from mid May to early June. Once the flowers start to open, often from the top downwards, peak flowering is reached extremely fast and so timing a visit to see Monkey Orchids in Britain can be problematic. Flowering is adversely affected by the encroachment of scrub. Another factor is the amount of light available at its sites: if they become too shaded then the Monkey Orchid will not flower and may not appear above the ground at all. The Monkey Orchid is similar in appearance to the Military Orchid Orchis militaris, but the 'legs' of the Military Orchid are straight and the plants are much taller than those of the Monkey Orchid. In Europe the range of the Monkey Orchid extends from Holland in the north (where it is extremely rare) southwards to the Mediterranean region.

Distribution Map Key Features
distribution map

Records for the Monkey 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: 10 to 30cm, occasionally to 45cm, stem flushed brownish towards the top and with 2 or 3 sheaths at the base.
Leaves: 3 or 4 green shiny basal leaves oblong or oval, sometimes keeled and blunt-tipped.
Bracts: very small, triangular in shape and whitish.
Flowers: the inflorescence is rounded and somewhat untidy looking. The flowers, which are white or pink with very dark purple markings, resemble tiny monkeys with the hood forming the 'head' and the four-lobed lip representing the 'arms' and 'legs'.

Image Gallery for Monkey Orchid Orchis simia

Pollination Taxonomy & Hybrids

The Monkey Orchid is sometimes pollinated by flies and butterflies, but seed set is poor and most pollination is carried out by hand in Britain. Vegetative reproduction has been observed rarely in plants in Holland.

The specific name simia means ape or monkey.

There are no subspecies. Hybrids with the Military Orchid Orchis militaris Orchis x beyrichii were recorded in the Thames Valley until the middle of the 19th Century but neither of the parent plants remains at the site. Orchis x bergonii, a hybrid with the Man Orchid Orchis anthropophora, appeared briefly in Kent but this has been attributed to a mistake with hand pollination.

Articles about Monkey Orchid in JHOS