Monkey orchid (Orchis simia)

Monkey orchid in flower
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Monkey orchid fact file

Monkey orchid description

GenusOrchis (1)

The English name of this very rare orchid refers to the shape of the flowers, which resemble monkeys. The curled 'arms and legs' of the lip are long and thin and there is a stumpy 'tail' (1).

Height: up to 45 cm (2)

Monkey orchid biology

An unusual feature of this long-lived perennial(5) orchid is that the flowers at the top of the flower spike open before those further down, this gives the spike a flattened appearance rather than the typical spire shape, (4) although when in full bloom this can be difficult to detect (4). It can take about 7 years after germination for a plant to flower, leaves begin to appear in April, and flowering occurs from May to June. A single plant is known to have flowered every year for 19 years (5). Like all members of this genus, each plant has two oval tubers, which earned the genus the Greek name Orchis, which translates as 'testicle' (1).


Monkey orchid range

Known from two locations in Kent and two sites in Oxfordshire (1), the monkey orchid was fairly common in the Thames Valley about 150 years ago (4). The species is widespread throughout southern and western Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa (5).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.

Monkey orchid habitat


Monkey orchid status

Classified as Vulnerable in Great Britain, and fully protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (3).


Monkey orchid threats

Collecting, grazing by rabbits and the removal of turf have affected this species (4). A colony was discovered in 1974 amongst sand dunes at Spurn Peninsula Nature Reserve in South East Yorkshire. Unfortunately in 1983 a bad storm caused the area to be inundated with seawater and the colony died (4). DNA tests have demonstrated that this species has low genetic diversity, a feature which may cause this orchid to be vulnerable to natural change (7).


Monkey orchid conservation

This orchid occurs on wardened nature reserves and private land managed by a local Wildlife Trust. At one site, flowering plants are protected from trampling and grazing by wire hats, which sit over the plant (8). Under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 it is illegal to uproot, cut, sell or destroy monkey orchids (3).

There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.

Find out more

See: Marren, P. (1999) Britain's rare flowers. Poyser Natural History, London.



Information authenticated by Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew:



A group of organisms living together, individuals in the group are not physiologically connected and may not be related, such as a colony of birds. Another meaning refers to organisms, such as bryozoans, which are composed of numerous genetically identical modules (also referred to as zooids or 'individuals'), which are produced by budding and remain physiologically connected.
Plants that live for at least three seasons; after an initial period they produce flowers once a year.
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.


  1. Mabey, R. (1996) Flora Britannica. Sinclair-Stevenson, London
  2. Press, B. & Gibbons, B. (1993) Wild Flowers of Britain and Europe. New Holland (Publishers) Ltd. London.
  3. JNCC (March 2002):
  4. Fisher, J. (1987) Wild Flowers In Danger. H. F. & G. Witherby, Ltd. London
  5. Wigginton, M. J. (1999) British Red Data Books 1; Vascular Plants. 3rd Edition. JNCC, Peterborough.
  6. Australasian Native Orchid Society (March 2002):
  7. Marren, P. (1999) Britain's rare flowers. Poyser Natural History, London.
  8. Hartslock SSSI (March 2002):

Image credit

Monkey orchid in flower  
Monkey orchid in flower

© Geoff Trinder

Geoff Trinder
The Croft
Carrhouse Road
Belton, Nr.Doncaster
South Yorkshire
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 1427 872 051


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