Orchis militaris - Military Orchid

Scientific Name: Orchis militaris – 'orchis' is from the Greek for testicle, a reference to the form of the tubers; 'militaris' is a Latin word refering to the soldier, an allusion to the helmet-like appearance of the upper petals.

English Name: Military Orchid.

French Name: Orchis militaire (= Military Orchid). Also Orchis guerrier (= Warrior Orchid), Orchis casque (= Helmet Orchid), Capette (= Hooded Cape) .

5 Key Characters:

  • flowers open first at the bottom of the flower spike
  • the divided central lobe of the labellum (bottom petal) form 'legs', which are wider than the 'arms' of the lateral lobes.
  • upper petals form a light greyish white to pinky lilac hood
  • flower spike conical to almost cylindrical
  • bright green leaves
Lookalikes: Lady Orchid O. purpurea and Monkey Orchid O. simia. O. militaris can be distinguished from O. purpurea by the colour of the 'hood / helmet' (pale = O. militaris; dark = O. purpurea), and from O. simia by the way the flower spike opens (from the bottom up = O. militaris; from the top down = O. simia). The width of the labellum (bottom petal) lobes (the 'arms' and 'legs') in O. militaris is intermediate between the wide lobes of O. purpurea and the narrow ones of O. simia. O. purpurea resembles a woman in a bonnet and crinoline dress; O. militaris resembles a helmeted man; O. simia resembles a monkey. These three species regularly hybridise, so specimens with characteristics from two may be hybrids. The hybrids also 'back breed' with the parent species in subsequent generations. O. militaris also hybridises with Man Orchid O. anthropophora.

Habitat: full sun or in partial shade in open forest or woodland; dry to damp calcareous soil; short lightly grazed flower rich dry grassland, poor wet flower rich lightly grazed long grassland, unimproved lightly grazed grassland, scrub, forest edges, woodland clearings. Favours horse pasture with Upright Brome Bromus erectus.

Flowering Period: April-May-June.

Status: Protected in the area covered by this website, where it is very rare and localised (ie only occurs on a few very specific sites). Can be seen within a 5km radius of Preuilly-sur-Claise, and the most significant populations in the area are in the Touraine du Sud. Occurs on 5 sites in the northern half of the Brenne.

Recorded by Loire Valley Nature:

Link to an article in Days on the Claise about Military Orchids at Chaumussay.

Photographs are numbered from left to right, top to bottom. 1 white form. 2 - 3 on a roadside bank near Chaumussay. 4 setting seed. 5 leaf rosette, April.

Members of the Association de Botanique et de Mycologie de Sainte Maure de Touraine check out a Military Orchid Orchis militaris on a roadside bank in the Claise Valley. Military Orchids are rare, but there are two small colonies in the Claise Valley, both on roadside banks.


  1. Single bloom in fallow field above Le Manoir de la Guépière, Nazelles-Négron.

    1. Really? Is this a known site do you know? (Too lazy to get up and get the atlas just at the moment...:-))