Friday 17 May
Military orchid (Orchis militaris)
Military orchid fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
Military orchid description
The rare military orchid earns its name from the appearance of the pink to purplish flowers (2), which look like small soldiers. They have an ash coloured 'helmet' formed from three sepals, the petals are hidden by the helmet but the white lip which projects downwards from the helmet has distinct 'arms' and 'legs', spotted with red 'tunic buttons' (4). The leaves are green in colour and glossy, and typically there is a single flower spike (2).
- Height: 30-60 cm (2)
Military orchid biology
This perennial orchid flowers in May and June (2), the main pollinators are thought to be hoverflies and bumblebees (6). After a seed germinates, it is thought that it can take about four years before leaves appear and a further four years before the plant produces flowers (2). A single plant can live for up to 15 years (6).
The Greek name Orchis means testicle, all members of this genus have two globular root tubers which led to orchid root being used as aphrodisiacs since classical times (5). The military orchid was called 'souldiers cullions' (which means 'soldiers' testicles) by John Gerard in The Herball of 1597 (5).Top
Military orchid range
In Britain this orchid is very rare, and is known only from Suffolk and the Buckinghamshire Chilterns (5). Elsewhere it is known throughout Europe reaching as far north as southern Sweden (2). Before the nineteenth century it was fairly widespread in the chalklands of southern England (5). By the mid-1920s, however, it was thought to have become extinct in Britain, but was rediscovered in 1947 (2).Top
Military orchid habitatTop
Military orchid status
Nationally Rare and Vulnerable in Great Britain, Vulnerable in Europe (3). Fully protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981)Top
Military orchid threats
Climatic factors such as cold weather are likely to affect this warmth-loving species (2), which is on the very edge of its range in Britain (5). Over-shading due to a decrease in traditional woodland management is also likely to have contributed to the decline of this species (2). Trampling of seedlings is a risk (2), and as with all orchids, collecting has taken its toll.Top
Military orchid conservation
The site near Marlow, Buckinghamshire is wardened, and the plants are protected from trampling by fencing. Habitat management at the site includes tree thinning and grazing by sheep to create suitable conditions for the orchid. Pollination is carried out by wardens to maximise the chance that seed will be set (5). At the site in Suffolk, the plants are also well protected (2). The military orchid is fully protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, so it is illegal to uproot, cut, sell or destroy this species.Top
Find out more
For more on the story of the demise and return of the military orchid see:
Mabey, R. (1996) Flora Britannica. Sinclair-Stevenson, London.
Marren, P. (1999) Britain's rare flowers. Poyser Natural History, London.Top
Information authenticated by Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew:
- Containing free calcium carbonate, chalky.
- In plants, petal or petals that form a lobe.
- Plants that live for at least three seasons; after an initial period they produce flowers once a year.
- A floral leaf (collectively comprising the calyx of the flower) that forms the protective outer layer of a flower bud. (See http://www.rbgkew.org.uk/ksheets/pdfs/flower.pdf for a fact sheet on flower structure).
- In plants, a thickened stem or root that acts as an underground storage organ. Roots and shoots grow from growth buds, called 'eyes', on the surface of the tuber.
- IUCN Red List 2000 (March 2002): http://www.redlist.org/
- Grey-Wilson, C. (1994) Eyewitness Handbooks: Wild Flowers of Britain and Northwest Europe. Dorling Kindersley, London
- JNCC (March 2002): www.jncc.gov.uk/habitats/jncc270/e2_6_5_1.htm
- Marren, P. (1999) Britain's rare flowers. Poyser Natural History, London.
- Mabey, R. (1996) Flora Britannica. Sinclair-Stevenson, London.
- Wigginton, M.J. (1999) British Red Data Books 1; Vascular Plants. 3rd Edition. JNCC, Peterborough.
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.