Serapias orientalis - Eastern Tongue Orchid

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

Serapias orientalis on Crete


Serapias orientalis is a short but robust plant growing to around 30cm tall. There are up to 10 pointed leaves at the base of the stem and some further bract-like leaves higher up. Each inflorescence carries up to 7 large flowers which are quite densely packed together. The sepals and petals are a pale pink-to-mauve and veined with dark red. They form a 'hood' over the lip of the flower which is broad at the base and tapering sharply towards the pointed tip. The lip is coated in the centre with long, dense white-ish hairs. The overall colour of the flowers is variable - some are pink and others a dull yellow or brick-coloured orange.

A close-up picture of the flowers of Serapias orientalis

Flowers vary in colour from very pale yellowish green to reddish-orange


As its name suggests this Mediterranean species grows mainly in the eastern part of the region, in Crete and southern Greece. It is frequently confused with other tongue orchid species and so its true range is unknown.

Serapias orientalis

A very pale, greenish-looking specimen


This plant grows in full sun or mid-shaded calcareous substrates and tolerates both dry and moist conditions. Unimproved short grasslands, damp meadows and abandoned farmland and olive groves are good places to look.

A wasp pollinates Serapias orientalis

Flowering times

From March to the end of April

The plants shown on this page were photographed in Crete at the beginning of April.


The genus name Serapias comes from the Graeco-Egyptian god Serapis, while the specific epithet orientaliis means 'from the Orient' ('eastern').

Reference sources

The Plant List

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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