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Herminium monorchis (L.) R Br. - Musk Orchid

Phylum: Magnoliophyta - Class: Liliopsida - Order: Orchidales - Family: Orchidaceae

Herminium monorchis, Musk Orchid

In the UK this rare orchid is now confined to the southern part of England where it lives in short, cropped grass on chalk or limestone habitats.

There are up to 20 recorded species of Herminium, a Eurasian genus, but only one from Europe.

Description

This overall greenish-yellow orchid is very difficult to spot. It grows to between 15-30cm and has between 2-4 oval keeled leaves at the base of the stem.

The flowers are very small and greenish-yellow, bell-shaped and project downwards from the stem. They have a strong honey scent and are very attractive to the tiny insects that cross-pollinate them. Musk Orchid is also able to reproduce vegetatively and the plants grow several new tubers at the end of tiny rhizomes which extend up to 20cm from the parent plant.

Distribution

In the UK this rare orchid is now confined to in the south of England but it is still widespread throughout Europe from Scandinavia in the north to Italy in the south. It is also present in the Balkan states in central Europe.

Closeup of the flower spike of the Musk Orchid

Habitat

This orchid requires short grassland on chalk or limestone.

Flowering times

Musk Orchid flowers from mid June to the end of July.

Taxonomic history

When Carl Linnaeus described this orchid in his Species Plantarum of 1753, he gave it the scientiic name Ophrys monorchis. The currently-accepted scientific name Herminium monorchis (L.) R. Br. dates from an 1813 publication by the Scottish botanist Robert Brown (1773 - 1858). (Robert Brown is also famous for describing, after microscopic study, the phenomenon now known as Brownian Motion, which refers to the random motion of particles in a gas or liquid medium.)

Etymology

The genus name Herminium may be derived from the Greek Hermes the shepherd; or perhaps Herminius, a soldier of Titian blood who helped Horatius defend the bridge against the Etruscans led by Lars Porsena. The specific epithet monorchis means 'one testicle', a reference to the single-bulbed form of the underground structure of this orchid.

The specimens shown on this page were photographed in Hampshire, at Noar Hill, in mid-June.

Reference sources

The Plant List

Herminium monorchis (L.) R.Br. in W.T.Aiton, Hortus Kew. 5: 191 (1813)

Sue Parker (2016) Wild Orchids of Wales - how, when and where to find them; First Nature

Anne and Simon Harrap (2005) Orchids of Britain and Ireland; A&C Black

Pierre Delforge (2005) Orchids of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East; A&C Black

Den Nordiska Floran (1992) Bo Mossberg, Stefan Ericsson and Lennart Stenberg; Wahlstrom & Widstrand


If you found this information helpful, we are sure you would also like books on the Wild Orchids of Wales, of The Burren, and of the Algarve. Author-signed copies are available here...

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