Neottia nidus-avis - Bird's Nest Orchid

Scientific Name: Neottia nidus-avis. From the Greek 'neotteia' = nest, a reference to the appearance of the tangled roots underground to a nest and the Latin 'nidus' = nest and 'avis' = bird, again referring to the way the interlaced roots remind one of a bird's nest. (Syn. N. ovata.)

English Name: Bird's Nest Orchid.

French Name: Néottie nid d'oiseau (= bird's nest).

5 Key Characters:
  • entirely pale beige to brownish, totally devoid of chlorophyll.
  • the stem is thick, fleshy, hollow and fluted.
  • lower flowers very widely spaced.
  • the labellum (lower petal) is shaped like an upside down 'Y', angled below horizontal and creased towards a cup shape at the base.
  • there is no eperon (the 'horn' at the back of many orchid flowers).
Lookalikes: No orchid lookalikes, but be careful not to mistake one of the broomrape species for this orchid.

Habitat: needs full shade with cool deep soil, calcareous to neutral. Found in woods and forests, especially dense beech woods and conifer forests and on the margins of woods. Often thrives in tuffeau (the local soft limestone), where it forms large colonies which fluctuate in number from year to year. Having no chlorophyll, this species is entirely dependent on its relationship with tree roots and mycorhizal fungi.

Flowering Period: May-June-July. The dry stem persists for a long time, sometimes more than a year after seeding (this is very unusual for a terrestrial orchid, which normally disappear very quickly after seeding).

Status: Locally common and widely distributed in Indre (36) and Indre et Loire (37), but uncommon in Vienne (86) and the Sologne. Can be seen within a 5 km radius of Preuilly-sur-Claise (for example, in the Fôret de Preuilly) and can be conspicuous. Noël Bernard's study of this species lead to the discovery of the sybiotic relationship between orchids and the soil fungi Rhizoctonia.

Photographed by Loire Valley Nature:

The roots, the appearance of which give the species its vernacular name, May, near Chaumussay. Note that this plant was dug up by a botanist for training purposes and it is not a protected species in this area. This was a special circumstance, and it is not generally appropriate to dig up plants or pick flowers in the wild, even if the species is not legally protected.

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