Epipogium aphyllum - Ghost Orchid

Phylum: Magnoliophyta - Class: Liliopsida - Order: Orchidales - Family: Orchidaceae

Epipogium aphyllum - Ghost Orchid

A group of robust stems of ghost orchids in full flower pusing through the beechwood litter (Abruzzo, Italy)


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.

Ghost Orchid - Epipogium apyllym

Above: A single flower of the ghost orchid revealing its rather delicate structure with crinkled (crenulate) lip which is delicately spotted with reddish tones. The two remaining petals and the three sepals are yellowish cream and point downwards. The large yellowish structure in the flower centre is the column where the pollinia (pollen bundles) reside. In the flower to the rear the large 'spur' is clearly visible at the top of the flower.


Epipogium aphyllum is widespread throughout Europe but absent from the Mediterranean region. It is rare throughout its range.

Epipogium aphyllum - ghost Orchid

Recent images of Ghost Orchids (July 2016) two weeks earlier than usual and in deep beechwood gloom


This orchid grows in deeply shaded upland woods, and appears through dense moist leaf litter.

Flowering times

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'.

Reference sources

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


Pictures contributed by Paul Harcourt Davies - Hidden worlds...
See also - Searching for the Ghost Orchid by Paul Harcourt Davies...

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