Bird’s nest orchid

Neottia nidus-avis

The bird’s nest orchid (Neottia nidus-avis) is a light brown coloured plant without chlorophyll living as a saprophyte in rich forestry soils. It looks like a broomrape (genus Orobanche), though it can be recognised as an orchid by the morphology of the flowers.

Both names, genus Neottia from Greek and species nidus-avis from Latin, mean bird’s nest. Throughout Europe, the plant is much more known by its appropriate, sonorous scientific name than by its translation to local languages. Below the stem, the roots appear densely and entangled from a thick rhizome, like a bird’s nest, therefore the name.

The stem is simple, until 40 cm tall, ending in a bunch of many flowers. These flowers keep same light brown colour. The petals on top are closed as a dome, while the large label spreads and ends in two lobes. The leaves are just scales attached to the stem; they do not have photosynthetic purpose anymore. The bird’s nest orchid lives mainly in subalpine and beech forests, where soil is plenty of humus. Often several individuals grow together. It’s more frequent in the east half of Catalonia; for instance it’s found in the range of Catllaràs (Berguedà). In the district of Bages it’s a rare species, although it’s found in the shadow of green oak woods of Montserrat and Montcau. The bird’s nest orchid often is not seen amongst the dead leaves of the soil, because its discreet, homogeneous colour.

[photo Marta Queralt López Salvans]