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Tongue Orchid
Serapias lingua

Two species of the Serapias genus have been recorded from Britain, but nobody is sure if this is due to 'nature' and the result of windblown seed from mainland Europe or the result of deliberate introduction. Predominantly a Mediterranean species, Serapias lingua has been found in two sites in Britain, in Guernsey and in Devon. In Devon the plants were identified as the subspecies duriaei which, in the Mediterranean, is a clump-forming species that can appear in vast numbers along roadside verges and in other scrubby habitats, particularly in the Algarve region of Portugal. In France there is a very similar species called Serapias gregaria, the specific name of which relates to its gregarious nature. The plants in Guernsey are recorded as Serapias lingua subsp. lingua. The flowering period for these orchids in Britain is May and June, but they appear much earlier in the Mediterranean.

Distribution Map Key Features
distribution map

Records for the Tongue 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 (subsp. lingua): up to 50cm in height; stem green marked with red.
Leaves: 4 to 8 narrow keeled green basal leaves, often marked red, and small bract-like leaves higher up the stem.
Bracts: narrow and held erect.
Flowers: up to 9 held in a lax spike. The colouring of Serapias. lingua is most attractive. with the hood a greyish-pink with pronounced darker pink veins. The lip extends from a tubular 'throat' and projects outwards and downwards (sometimes backwards) and is pale pink with distinct dark pink veining. The principal defining feature is a dark boss at the base of the lip deep within the 'throat' of the flower.
Plant (subsp. duriaei): up to 60cm tall; stem green at the base becoming red towards the tip.
Leaves: 5 to 7 narrow, erect leaves at the base of the plant and 2 bract-like leaves higher on stem.
Bracts: narrow and held erect behind the flower.
Flowers: 3 to 5 flowers in lax spike, smaller than those of Serapias lingua subsp. lingua. Hood greyish with darker greenish veining. Lip distinct brick red with darker veins. Boss at base of stem not as pronounced as that of Serapias linguasubsp. lingua.

Image Gallery for Tongue Orchid Serapias lingua

Pollination Taxonomy & Hybrids

The flowers are pollinated by a variety of small bees. Vegetative reproduction appears to be important and may account for the large clusters of plants.

The specific name lingua means 'tongue'.

There are no known hybrids. Plants found in Devon have been recorded as Serapias lingua subsp. duriaei

Articles about Tongue Orchid in JHOS