Orchis simia - Monkey Orchid

Scientific Name: Orchis simia – 'orchis' is from the Greek for testicle, a reference to the form of the tubers; 'simia' is from the Latin for 'monkey', a reference to the shape of the labellum (the lower petal).

English Name: Monkey Orchid.

French Name: Orchis singe (= 'Monkey Orchid').

5 Key Characters:
  • The flowers open in succession from the top of the spike down.
  • The flower spike is more or less cylindrical (ie not tapering).
  • The perianth (the petals and sepals forming the 'hood' at the top of the flower) is pinkish white.
  • The middle lobe of the labellum is divided into two narrow 'legs', separated by a 'tooth' (or 'tail' or...ahem...penis...).
  • The side lobes of the labellum are equally long and narrow, dark mauvy-pink and curving upwards.
Lookalikes: Military Orchid Orchis militaris, with which it regularly hybridises. They can be distinguished by the direction the flowers open along the spike (from the top to the bottom for O. simia, from the bottom to the top for O. militaris), and by the 'limbs' (all the same width in O. simia, 'legs' wider than 'arms' in O. militaris). O. simia hybridises regularly with O. militaris, Man Orchid O. anthropophora and Lady Orchid O. purpurea, so specimens with a mixture of characters may be hybrids.

Habitat: Frost tender; full sun to light shade; dry to arid calcareous soils; short lightly grazed flower rich grassland, stony slopes, fallow land, scrub and woodland clearings, roadsides.

Flowering Period: April-May-June.

Status: Fairly common in the area covered by this website and they are conspicuous and easy to see, but much rarer in most of the rest of France. Very easily seen within a 5 km radius of Preuilly-sur-Claise, and the species is particularly abundant in the Claise and Vienne valleys. One of our most common orchids, especially on roadsides. They form very dense and beautiful colonies wherever there is a calcareous outcrop in the Touraine Loire Valley and Brenne. Present in the Sologne.

Photographed by Loire Valley Nature:
Photographs are numbered from left to right and top to bottom. 1 in bud, roadside near Chaumussay, April. 2 typical flower, April. 3 - 5 on a limestone ridge between Preuilly-sur-Claise and Chaumussay, April. 6 on the roadside near Chaumussay, April.

An unidentified caterpillar (Marbled Fritillary?) begins to pupate on a Monkey Orchid stem.
On the roadside, Humeau, April 2015.

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