LIZARD ORCHID

Himantoglossum hircinum

Orchid Family [Orchidaceae]

month8jun month8june month8jul month8july

status
statusZnative
 
flower
flower8green
 
inner
inner8mauve inner8purple
 
morph
morph8zygo
 
petals
petalsZ5
 
type
typeZspiked
 
type
typeZspurred
short
stem
stem8round
 
smell
smell8billygoat
billy goat
rarity
rarityZscarce
 

Sandwich Bay, Kent. Photo: © Phil And Ann Farrer
A fairly rare orchid, stout, greyish and up to 25-70cm tall which from afar doesn't look particularly noticeable and indeed a bit bedraggled.


2nd June 2010, near Gourdon, Lot region of France Photo: © Kelly Finney
These specimens are clearly over 75cm tall, ladies boot at foot in comparison. Has 4 - 5 broad and blunt fleshy leaves but which wither away by flowering time. The 4 - 5 narrower stem leaves can be seen here.


10th June 2012, Sandwich Bay, Kent. Photo: © Barney Case
Narrow elliptic sheaths of leaves (sometimes mottled purple) emerge at intervals up the stem. An un-tidy spike of flowers populate the upper half.


Sandwich Bay, Kent. Photo: © Phil And Ann Farrer
The flowers are highly distinctive with a very long, narrow and purple tongue dangling out of every flower. The blue flower in the background is Viper's Bugloss.


10th June 2012, Sandwich Bay, Kent. Photo: © Barney Case
Initially the long lips are coiled up like a watch spring. As they gradually un-roll and extend they retain some of the twist of the original wind.


Sandwich Bay, Kent. Photo: © Phil And Ann Farrer
The greyish green hood consists of three cowled sepals. The long tongue has white marks and deeper purple markings just where it emerges from the cowl, and also with narrower and much shorter side spurs. The tongue itself is linear, up to 2 inches long, and usually twisted.


10th June 2012, Sandwich Bay, Kent. Photo: © Barney Case
A particularly densely flowered specimen.


2nd June 2010, near Gourdon, Lot region of France Photo: © Kelly Finney
By looking upwards purple stripes can be seen lining the two lateral petals on the inside of the hood. The spur behind the hood is short and conical.


10th June 2012, Sandwich Bay, Kent. Photo: © Barney Case
Lip is enormously long in comparison to the rest of the flower.


10th June 2012, Sandwich Bay, Kent. Photo: © Barney Case
Taken together, the long lip (tail) and two shorter side-lobes (flailing legs) plus the hood (head) give the semblance of a lizard, hence the moniker.


10th June 2012, Sandwich Bay, Kent. Photo: © Barney Case
The 'body' is white with small patches of purple.


10th June 2012, Sandwich Bay, Kent. Photo: © Barney Case
Short hairs on 'body'.


25th May 2010, near Gourdon, Lot region of France Photo: © Kelly Finney
Sexual organs are positioned at the top of the hood. Before un-furling the long tongue is wound up like a clock-spring (top left).


Not to be semantically confused with : Snakes Head Fritillary, Snake Liverwort, Snake's-head Iris or Chameleon [plants with similar names or associations]

Uniquely identifiable characteristics

Distinguishing Feature : The extremely long lower narrow lip, which is tinged a muddy magenta and which is twisted like christmas decorations.

Smells very strongly of Billy Goat, noticeable from afar if there are many together to augment the aroma.

This is the only plant in this particular genus (at least that grows in the UK). It is very sensitive to drought, which will kill mature plants too, so it is strange that it should prefer south-facing slopes on warm hillsides, where drought conditions would be more likely. The setting of seed is poor. Strangely, of the populations where it exists, six are on golf-courses - raising the question - was sandy-soil trans-located from elsewhere to build the golf-courses, and if so, from where? The spur at the rear of the flower is a short about 5mm long.

Grows only at scattered locations in the southern quarter1 of England, with the largest population of (~3000 plants) at a site in Kent. No presence in Wales, Eire or Scotland. It only grows in alkaline areas, preferring chalk grassland rather than limestone soils. Also grows on old sand dunes, which are alkaline not because of silicon dioxide (which is slightly acidic in nature) but to the presence of grains of sea shells which contain calcium carbonate in the form of  aragonite and  calcite with traces of  ammolite, the iridescent part of some mollusc shells.

1. (some say 'southern half', but it doesn't grow anywhere near as far north as the latitude of Birmingham)


  Himantoglossum hircinum  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Orchidaceae  

Distribution
 family8Orchid family8Orchidaceae

 BSBI maps
genus8Himantoglossum
Himantoglossum
(Lizard Orchid)

LIZARD ORCHID

Himantoglossum hircinum

Orchid Family [Orchidaceae]

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