A tuberous, winter-green perennial herb growing on chalk and, rarely, limestone in open grassland, on roadsides and in quarries, and occasionally on calcareous sand dunes and heathland. Lowland.
This species was restricted to Kent until the early 1900s, when it underwent a remarkable expansion, reaching as far north as Yorkshire. After 1934, it declined rapidly but maintained this range. Many occurrences are of monocarpic plants; with 9-11 populations recorded each year the map over-emphasises losses as historical records accumulate. Only two populations are definitely self-sustaining, although two more may be so.
Light (Ellenberg): 7
Moisture (Ellenberg): 3
Reaction (Ellenberg): 9
Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 2
Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0
January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 3.8
July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 16.3
Annual Precipitation (mm): 728
Height (cm): 70
Perennation - primary
Life Form - primary
Clonality - primary
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 113
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 2
Atlas Change Index: -2.4
Plantatt Conservation Status
External Species Accounts
RDB Species Accounts
Himantoglossum hircinum (L.) Sprengel (Orchidaceae)
Lizard orchid, Tegeirian Drewllyd
Status in Britain: VULNERABLE. WCA Schedule 8.
Status in Europe: Not threatened.
H. hircinum is a plant of calcareous soils in southern England, occurring in tall open grasslands mainly on the chalk, but locally also on limestone, and on dunes. In Cambridgeshire, it grows in ungrazed chalk grassland on the slopes of an ancient earthwork. Associated species in chalk grassland include Astragalus danicus, Brachypodium pinnatum, Bromopsis erecta, Carex caryophyllea, C. flacca, Cirsium acaule, Festuca rubra, Helianthemum nummularium, Helictotrichon pratense, Leontodon hispidus, Lotus corniculatus and Thymus polytrichus. On sand-dunes it may accompany Allium vineale, Ammophila arenaria, Anacamptis pyramidalis, Elytrigia atherica, Festuca rubra, Galium mollugo, G. verum, Holcus lanatus, Pilosella officinarum, Sedum acre, Trifolium arvense and Vulpia bromoides. In some of its roadside verge sites, it occurs in species-poor rank grassland with undistinguished associates.
This perennial species overwinters as a green plant. The leaves emerge in September or October and rosettes persist until May. Flowering stems sometimes attain a metre in height, but are more usually about 30 cm tall. Flowering is in June and July, with a range of insects (including hoverflies, bees and moths) visiting and presumably pollinating the flowers. Plants that do not produce flowers die back in late May, and no aerial parts are visible until the following autumn. Individuals can be long-lived: some plants first observed in 1978 were still alive in 1996.
In England, H. hircinum was restricted to Kent until the turn of this century, after which it spread as far as Yorkshire in the north and Devon in the west. There were only a few populations extant in any one year before 1907, but by 1930 about 30 populations were recorded every year. After 1934 there was a dramatic decline in the number of populations although the extent of the geographic range was maintained. Since the 1940s there has consistently been 9-11 populations each year, although not the same ones - there have been losses and gains. In the last few years it appears that the species is becoming more common again with seven new populations being noted since 1987. Typically, populations have been small and sometimes short-lived, with flowers appearing in perhaps only a single season. With protection, populations have become more persistent in recent years, and two have become large enough to be self-sustainable. The largest is at Sandwich, Kent: 3,000 plants in 1991 and 1,500 in 1995, the difference in numbers perhaps merely representing a natural fluctuation. The other large population (in Cambridgeshire) has been fairly stable in numbers in recent years: 200 were counted in 1995. Most of the other extant colonies are very small.
Conservation management of H. hircinum sites has included the control of rank vegetation, and the removal of litter and moss layers to encourage the growth of seedlings. At the Cambridgeshire site rank growth has been controlled by burning quinquennially between January and March and, though there is some damage to rosettes, plants recover and flowers are produced as usual. The burning is a substitute for grazing, and benefits many of the other herbs in the community. The possible benefits of raking out old vegetation and moss are also being investigated at that site. In Kent, Sussex and Somerset, H. hircinum grows in unmanaged dune grassland on golf courses, where populations maintain themselves without much intervention, and are likely to continue to do so providing nutrient levels are kept low. Those in Kent may be much trampled during golf championships in July, but this does not seem to have an adverse affect. Indeed, it may even be beneficial as H. hircinum is dormant at that time of year, and much of the damage would be to its potential competitors. This species is still targeted by collectors, and plants have been dug-up in recent years from both Kent and Cambridgeshire populations.
H. hircinum is widely distributed in Europe, extending from Iberia northwards to England and Germany, and eastwards to the Balkan peninsula and the Crimea. It appears to be in decline in north-western and central Europe, and extinct in the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.
L. Farrell and P. D. Carey
Atlas text references
1965. Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 1. 2 vols. .
1991. The orchids of Suffolk. .
1999. British Red Data Books. 1. Vascular plants, edn 3.