Neotinea tridentata subsp. lactea - Milky Orchid

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

Milky Orchid, Neotinea tridentata subsp. lactea

Picture by kind permission of Anne Horsfall

Three very similar looking orchids, Orchis conica, Orchis lactea and Orchis tridentata have recently been moved from the Orchis genus to the Neotinea genus where they join the former Orchis intacta which is now called Neotinea maculata. Despite their large geographical range, many authorities have long suspected that the morphological similarities between O. conica, O. lactea and O. tridentata indicate a very close relationship, and this has now been confirmed by molecular study. These orchids are now sometimes simply referred to by the synonyms Neotinea conica, Neotinea lactea and Neotinea tridentata.


The common name of this orchid refers to the colour of the flowers, which are a pale milky colour although the lip is densely marked with dark dots and streaks. Neotinea lactea is a small plant growing only to around 25cm tall. It has 3-5 erect basal leaves which are pale green and unmarked, and there are further small bract-like leaves sheathing the lower stem. The inflorescence is dense and the number of flowers is very variable. The flower sepals and petals are marked with dark green veins and form a hood above the lip. The lip is deeply lobed, usually a creamy colour and marked with dark pink spots. The central lobe is convex and bent backwards.


There is some debate about the extent of this orchid's range in the Mediterranean due to confusion with the similar orchids (mentioned above) Neotinea conica in the west and Neotinea tridentata in other parts of the range. It is recorded from France, Italy, Crete and Corsica.


The Milky Orchid grows in open grassy places, in scrub and abandoned farmland

Flowering times

End of February to tbe beginning of April.

The picture on this page was taken in Crete.


The genus name Neotinea honours the Sicilian botanist Vincenzo Tineo (1791 - 1856), while the specific epithet lactea means 'milky'.

Reference sources

The Plant List

Sue Parker (2014) Wild Orchids of the Algarve - where, when and how to find them; First Nature

Chris Thorogood and Simon Hiscock (2014) Field Guide to the Wildflowers of the Algarve; Kew Publishing

Pierre Delforge (2005) Orchids of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East; A&C Black

Fielding, Turland and Mathew (2005) Flowers of Crete; Kew

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