Neottia nidus-avis (L.) Rich., De Orchid. Eur.: 37 (1817).
Homotypic Names:
Ophrys nidus-avis L., Sp. Pl.: 945 (1753).
Epipactis nidus-avis (L.) Crantz, Stirp. Austr. Fasc., ed. 2, 2: 475 (1769).
Listera nidus-avis (L.) Curtis, Fl. Londin.: t. 58 (1778).
Helleborine nidus-avis (L.) F.W.Schmidt, Fl. Boëm. 1: 78 (1793).
Malaxis nidus-avis (L.) Bernh., Syst. Verz. Erf.: 314 (1800).
Serapias nidus-avis (L.) Steud., Nomencl. Bot.: 766 (1821).
Neottidium nidus-avis (L.) Schltdl., Fl. Berol. 1: 454 (1823).
Distomaea nidus-avis (L.) Spenn., Fl. Friburg. 1: 246 (1825).
Heterotypic Synonyms:
Helleborine succulenta F.W.Schmidt, Fl. Boëm. 1: 78 (1793).
Neottia abortiva Gray, Nat. Arr. Brit. Pl. 2: 209 (1821 publ. 1822), sensu auct.
Neottia macrostelis Peterm., Flora 27: 369 (1844).
Neottia nidus-avis f. brachystelis Peterm., Anal. Pfl.-Schlüss.: 447 (1846).
Neottia nidus-avis f. macrostelis Peterm., Anal. Pfl.-Schlüss.: 447 (1846).
Neottia nidus-avis var. pallida Wirtg., Fl. Preuss. Rheinprov.: 450 (1857).
Neottia squamosa Dulac, Fl. Hautes-Pyrénées: 120 (1867).
Neottia orobanchoidea St.-Lag., Ann. Soc. Bot. Lyon 7: 61 (1880).
Neottia nidus-avis var. glandulosa Beck, Fl. Nieder-Österreich: 217 (1890).
Neottia nidus-avis var. nivea Magnus ex M.Schulze, Orch. Deutschl.: n.° 65 (1894).
Neottia nidus-avis f. brunnea J.Weiss, Allg. Bot. Z. Syst. 1: 30 (1895).
Neottia nidus-avis f. sulphurea J.Weiss, Allg. Bot. Z. Syst. 1: 30 (1895).
Neottia nidus-avis f. dilatata Zapal., Consp. Fl. Gallic. Crit. 1: 231 (1906).
Neottia nidus-avis f. micrantha Zapal., Consp. Fl. Gallic. Crit. 1: 231 (1906).
Neottia nidus-avis lusus nivea (Magnus ex M.Schulze) Asch. & Graebn., Syn. Mitteleur. Fl. 3: 894 (1907).
Neottia nidus-avis lusus pallida (Wirtg.) Asch. & Graebn., Syn. Mitteleur. Fl. 3: 893 (1907).
Neottia nidus-avis lusus sulphurea (J.Weiss) Asch. & Graebn., Syn. Mitteleur. Fl. 3: 893 (1907).
Neottia nidus-avis f. glandulosa (Beck) Hegi, Ill. Fl. Mitt.-Eur. 2: 389 (1909).
Neottia nidus-avis f. nivea (Magnus ex M.Schulze) Hegi, Ill. Fl. Mitt.-Eur. 2: 389 (1909).
Neottia nidus-avis f. pallida (Wirtg.) Hegi, Ill. Fl. Mitt.-Eur. 2: 389 (1909).
Neottia nidus-avis grows to 40 cm tall and each shoot can carry up to 60 flowers. Plants are not in any part green, deriving all their nutrition from a mycorrhizal fungus in the soil/litter, which in turn derives nutrition from the roots of trees. Plants are generally beige-brown, though sometimes yellowish or white forms are discovered. The flower labellum splits and strongly diverges at its lower end. This species of orchid can be hard to spot, being camouflaged against the leaf litter.
Neottia nidus-avis is an extremely widespread orchid that occurs throughout the temperate zones of Eurasia as far east as Japan. It is largely a saprophytic orchid though experiments have demonstrated an ability to manufacture small quantities of chlorophyll, particularly where the plant is growing in good light conditions. Normally however it is a denizen of damp, shady, deciduous or conifer woodland where its unmistakable honey coloured inflorescence appears above ground from May to July. It reproduces primarily by vegetative expansion and can often form substantial colonies over significant areas. This said it does produce small quantities of nectar that is attractive to small insects, mainly flies, which do in turn pollinate the flower. In some circumstances it is possible for N. nidus-avis to complete its reproductive cycle without appearing above ground at all, this being a capability it shares with E. aphyllum, the Ghost Orchid.
As previously mentioned it is a highly distinctive orchid that does not possess green leaves, these being replaced by light brown scales that sheath the stem. It is most commonly found in woodland on alkaline soils but will venture to the lighter margins of the wood and has been known to persist in full sun for some years where deforestation has occurred. Where a group of several stems occur in close proximity as in the first photograph, it should be noted that they will all be individual plants formed by simple root division.
Pollination is carried out by Diptera and possibly also ants. Self-pollination may occur if insects do not pollinate the plants.
This species was first described from southern England by Richard in 1753 and its specific name literally means bird's nest, this being a reference to the tangled mass of roots that support the short creeping rhizome. Neottia also means nest and perhaps unsurprisingly therefore, it has long been commonly known as the Birds Nest Orchid.
Europe to Iran, NW. Africa
Dobignard, D. & Chatelain, C. (2010). Index synonymique de la flore d'Afrique du nord 1: 1-455. Éditions des conservatoire et jardin botaniques, Genève; Castroviejo, S. & al. (eds.) (2005). Flora Iberica 21: 1-366. Real Jardín Botánico, CSIC, Madrid; El Mokni, R., Mahmoudi, M.R. & El Aouni, M.H. (2010). Neottia nidus-avis (L.) L.C.M.Rich.: une nouvelle orchidée pour la flore de la Tunisie. L' Orchidophile. Revue de la Société Française d' Orchidophilie 186: 181-187.
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