Himantoglossum hircinum, Lizard Orchid

Oxfordshire Flora Group


Himantoglossum hircinum, Lizard Orchid

Himantoglossum hircinum, Lizard Orchid. Photo by Christopher Hoskin, 26 June 2016.

What is Lizard Orchid?

Lizard Orchid Himantoglossum hircinum (Himant – strap, Glossum – tongue, Hircinum – smelling of goats) is a native, tuberous, winter-green perennial, and our largest wild orchid.

What is the history of Lizard Orchid in Oxfordshire?

Photo Christopher Hoskin

Druce recorded it in 1920 near Stow Wood, but not since. He added that it “. . . may owe its origin to seeds blown from Headington where Mr H Balfour had cultivated it for several years. He brought the tubers from the Dordogne, and one developed a flowering spike over a yard high.”
The Flora of Oxfordshire cites Elsfield, and Bix in 1926 (Bowen), Stonesfield in 1933, near Stoke Row in 1948, Berrins Hill in 1970 and Wick copse 1977-2010. In 2015 two plants appeared, one near Wallingford and one in West Oxfordshire, both on road verges. The former has not been seen since, but the latter flowered in 2016 and 2017. In Berkshire recorded from Moulsford by Druce and Lollingdon Hill in 1921 by Bowen.

Does it grow anywhere else in the UK?

This species was restricted to Kent until the early 1900s when it underwent a remarkable expansion reaching Yorkshire. Since the 1930s it has declined in numbers with many plants occurring and flowering only once.

Where does it grow in the world?

Lizard orchid is found across Europe, from Spain eastwards to the Balkans and in western North Africa.

Does it have a conservation status?

Nationally Rare (in the Red Data Book by Wigginton) Schedule 8, England Red List (2015) Least Concern; GB Red List (Cheffings & Farrell) Near Threatened.

What habitats does it grow in?

A calcicole species, which grows over chalk or limestone, in grassland, on road verges and in quarries, preferring very low nutrient conditions. It is usually rare but can sometimes be found in great numbers as on stabilized dunes at Sandwich.

Himantoglossum hircinum, Lizard Orchid. Photo by Christopher Hoskin, 26 June 2016.

What management is Lizard Orchid current subject to?

Bollards have been installed near the West Oxfordshire plant to prevent vehicles driving over it, and an unknown well-wishes has put a copper collar to prevent slug damage.


The County Highways authority has provided bollards.

Horned Treehopper
Horned Treehopper (Centrotus cornutus) resting on Lizard Orchid (Himantoglossum hircinum). Photo by Christopher Hoskin, 12 June 2017.
The Lizard Orchid is Wintergreen, with the shoot for next year’s growth first emerging in September. Photo by Christopher Hoskin, 5 March 2017.