Himantoglossum hircinum - Lizard Orchid

Scientific Name: Himantoglossum hircinum. From the Greek himas (= 'thong') and glossa (= 'tongue'), a reference to the long narrow straplike labellum (bottom petal), and the Latin hircinus (= 'billy goat like'), a reference to the smell emitted by most specimens of this plant.

English Name: Lizard Orchid. Unusually, the English name reflects neither the French or the scientific name. Presumably the shape of the flowers are thought to look like lizards, with the long streamer of the labellum representing the lizard's tail and the lateral (side) lobes the lizard's hind legs.

French Name: Orchis bouc (= 'billy goat orchid'). Also Satyre fétide (= 'foul smelling half-man half-goat'); Bouquin (= 'old billy goat'); Orchis à odeur de bouc (= 'orchid with the smell of billy goats'); Cornes de bouc (= 'billy goat horns').

5 Key Characters:
  • The very long (30-60mm) central lobe of the labellum is coiled inside the flower bud and unrolls and twists downwards like a streamer when the flower opens.
  • France's tallest orchid, from at least 20 cm up to 120 cm high – usually about 40 cm.
  • Very robust.
  • Large dull grey green leaves.
  • Large flowers, often with an unpleasant smell.
Lookalikes: None.

Habitat: Full sun, always on dry calcareous soil. Found in grassy areas, scrub, the edges of open woodland, roadside banks, the fringes of towns and villages, lawns, brownfield sites.

Flowering Period: May-June-July. The leaves appear in October and are already starting to wither when flowering starts. Its strong musky smell and plentiful nectar attract many insects.

Status: Common (indeed the second most common species in the Touraine). Can be seen within 5km of Preuilly-sur-Claise. Often abundant and visible for a large part of the year, at least in the form of large rosettes of leaves which appear in the autumn. The species seems to be getting more common and widely distributed and has even been recorded in central Tours. Common in the Brenne and occurs in the Sologne.

Photographed by Loire Valley Nature:
Pictures numbered from left to right, top to bottom. 1 Demonstrating how high some Lizard Orchids can grow - these are nearly waist high. 2 Flower spike in bud. 3-4 Close ups of flowers. 5-6 Leaf rosettes, March. 7 leaf rosette neatly strimmed around on a street side bank in Descartes, April. 8-9 leaf rosettes in Thyme Thymus sp ground cover, nature strip next to the Médiatheque in Preuilly-sur-Claise, April.

A leaf rosette, showing the large leaves. Lizard Orchid rosettes are easy to identify, as they have by far the largest leaves of any of the local native orchids.

In full flower, showing the rather tinselly effect of the streamer like labellums.
A Lizard Orchid leaf rosette in our orchard in October.


  1. 1st time ever seen and it has appeared in our garden in the Haute Savoie... How did it get here birds or other

  2. Une très grande quantité dans la pelouse.. 45120

  3. I was delighted to find around 20 lizard orchids at the chateau in Chateaudun today. The first time I have seen them in full flower. CH Hampshire, England