Serapias lingua - Tongue Orchid

Scientific Name: Serapias lingua – 'Serapis' (possibly) = a Greek / Egyptian god, who shares his name with the orchid because it is reputed to be an aphrodisiac; more likely is that it comes from a Persian word for an item of clothing decorated with a long red band; 'lingua' = Latin for tongue, a reference to the form of the epichile (the pointed end of the labellum, or lower petal).

English Name: Tongue Orchid.

French Name: Sérapias en langue (= Tongue Serapias). Sometimes Sérapias à languette (= Tongue Serapias).

5 Key Characters:
  • very dark purple shining slipper shaped nodule easily visible at the base of the labellum.
  • often occurs in compact groups of many plants (sometimes thousands).
  • intensity of labellum colour very variable, but almost always pink, often brick red or salmon and strikingly tongue-like. There are very rare examples of yellow or white.
  • few flowers (2-6) per flower spike, and not very tall plants, making them difficult to see until you are upon them.
  • labellum covered in short sparse hairs, especially at the base of the 'protruding tongue' (epichile).
Lookalikes: all other Serapias spp, but there is only one other, very rare, Serapias sp in the area covered by this website, occuring only in Vienne. It is unlikely you will mistake it for anything else here.

Habitat: Full sun to semi-shade; loam, muddy or sandy acidic to weakly alkaline clay or calcareous soil; poor dry short grassland, cool damp to wet grassland and swamps, dry scrubby heathland clearings, conifer woodland clearings. Particularly soils that are saturated in winter, and very dry in summer. The nearest site to Preuilly sur Claise that it occurs is a former kaolin quarry.

Flowering Period: March-April-May-June. Pollinated by insects that seek the relative warmth and shelter of the flower 'hood' (3 - 4 degrees warmer than ambiant). Mostly pollinated by a small male wasp Ceratina cucurbitina, which mistakes the flower for a female wasp.

Status: Protected and rare in the Touraine Loire Valley. Can be seen within 5km of Preuilly-sur-Claise, although very rare. In the Touraine it appears and disappears, and can occasionally be seen in the extreme southern tip of Indre-et-Loire e.g. Tournon Saint-Pierre and where it borders with the Brenne in Indre. It can be found more easily in the Brenne, where it is locally common. It is really a mediterranean/atlantic species on the northern limit of its range here. It often forms large colonies. The closest site to Preuilly that it occurs is privately owned and not accessible to the public. It can be easily seen in great numbers (in their thousands!) on Rosnay Common in the Brenne.

Photographed by Loire Valley Nature:

Tongue Orchids growing in typical prairie habitat on Rosnay Common in the Brenne.


  1. Thank you Susan. A clump has appeared in my grass, down in the Lot (46). I have carefully mowed round them.

    1. Wow! that's exciting, to have them in your lawn!

  2. So nice to know what they are. Have a small clump in our meadow in the Dordogne.
    Sue Hall

  3. Just found one in my garden in the Lot (dept 46) whilst mowing. First one in 15 years. Second new find this year with the Chalk Fragrant Orchid. That's 18 in total now.