Phylum: Magnoliophyta - Class: Liliopsida - Order: Orchidales - Family: Orchidaceae
The Ghost Orchid is one of our rarest and most sought-after wild orchids, and yet this diminutive plant grows only to around 30cm tall, is often much shorter, and nigh impossible to find due to its unpredictable appearance in the wild. It has no leaves and, devoid of chlorophyll (green pigmentation which enables plants to produce energy from sunlight), is entirely dependent upon a relationship with fungi in the soil around it for its survival. Each stalk carries between 1 - 8 flowers which are creamy-white except for the lip (labellum) which is white with intricate pink spots. Curiously the labellums are the uppermost part of the flowers giving them an overall appearance of hanging upsidedown. The Ghost Orchid spends most of its time underground and seldom flowers - up to ten year gaps are recorded in between the flowering of this elusive species.
Epipogium aphyllum is widespread throughout Europe but absent from the Mediterranean region. It is rare throughout its range.
This orchid grows in deeply shaded upland woods, and appears through dense moist leaf litter.
July and August.
The plants shown on this page were photographed in various parts of mainland Europe.
The genus name Epipogium literally means 'lip above' and refers to the up-turned form of the flower lip. The specific epithet aphyllum means 'without leaves' or 'leafless'.
The Plant List
Buttler, Davies (1991) Field Guide to the Orchids of Britain and Europe: The Crowood Press
Pierre Delforge (2005) Orchids of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East; A&C Black
If you found this information helpful, we are sure you would also like books on the Wild Orchids of Wales, of The Burren, and of the Algarve. Author-signed copies are available here...