Orchis militaris - Military Orchid

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

Military Orchid

Above: Orchis militaris on the edge of woodland in the Lot Valley in France

The Military Orchid is now extremely rare in England and absent from Ireland. Thankfully, it still still occurs in many other northern and central European countries.

A group of Orchis militaris, Military Orchid


The Military Orchid grows up to 60cm tall and has 2 - 5 basal leaves which are bright green. There are futher smaller leaves sheathing the stem. The Inflorescence is cylindrical when the flowers are full open and typically carries between 2-25 flowers although more have been recorded. The common name of this orchid derives from the helmet-shaped hood formed by the upper petals and sepals.

Orchis militaris - Military Orchid


Orchis militaris occurs in Europe as far south as Spain. To the north its range extends into Siberia. In the UK it is confined to two sites in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire and has been subject to numerous conservation projects since being rediscovered in 1947 after being thought to have become extinct.


This orchid grows on alkaline substrates in meadows, in scrub and woodland edges.

A colony of Orchis militaris - Military Orchid

Flowering times

April (in southern France), May and June.

The specimens shown on this page were photographed in the Lot Valley, southern France, in late May.

Varieties and Hybrids

There are unconfirmed reports of the hybrid with the Monkey Orchid Orchis simia Orchis x beyrichii being found in Oxfordshire in the 19th century.


The genus name Orchis means 'testacles', a reference to the twin tubers of orchids in this genus. The specific epithet militaris means 'military' and refers to the helmet-shaped hood formed by the upper petals and sepals.

Reference sources

The Plant List

Anne and Simon Harrap (2005) Orchids of Britain and Ireland; A&C Black

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

Den Nordiska Floran (1992) Bo Mossberg, Stefan Ericsson and Lennart Stenberg; Wahlstrom & Widstrand

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