Orchids in SW France


Orchis mascula. Early purple orchid

If my memory is correct, we first saw our house here in SW France 21 years ago today. The weather was glorious, as it has been recently – very welcome after a gloomy few months. In 1997, we noticed in particular the virtuoso song of the nightingales, the clarity of the night sky and the abundance of wild flowers in the fields and by the roadsides. Among these, wild orchids grow particularly well in our region at this time of year.

We have good and bad orchid years, which is no doubt a reflection of the weather during the preceding months. This year appears to be a good one. Our field and our back lawn are covered with clumps of early purple orchids (photo at the top of the post), around which we have to slalom with the mower for a few weeks until they die down.

Around 50 varieties of orchid are said to grow in our département, Tarn-et-Garonne. The best time to see them is in late April/early May. There are places in the area where the conditions are particularly favourable for orchids and you can find up to 20 varieties in the course of a walk – and if you know what you are looking for.

One of these is on the last outcrop of the Massif Central, just before the land slopes downwards towards Septfonds. The terrain is composed of an odd whitish, rather sticky soil, which clings to your boots after rain and hardens like concrete. Another good place to find them is on the hillsides just over the border in Aveyron, above La Rouquette.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on these plants, but I have taken a number of photos of them during walks, or simply around our garden. They are taken only with my small point and shoot camera, so they are not brilliant quality, but they give you some idea of the delicacy and variety of the flowers.

I have attempted to name them from various books and websites, but please let me know in the comments below if I have got any wrong.

Orchid - Orchis militaris

Orchis militaris

Cephalantera longifolia

Cephalantera longifolia


Anacamptis pyramidalis


An orchid that imitates the form of its pollinator, the bee.

Unidentified orchid
Yellow bee orchid, Ophrys Lutea


Below is a rather pathetic specimen, which has flowered after being accidentally mown over. I always thought this was a bee orchid, but my researches show that it’s more likely to be a woodcock orchid, Ophrys scolopax. The two orchids are rather similar. Anyway, let me know if you don’t agree.


Ophrys scolopax?

This one, the Violet Limodore, can take up to 10 years to germinate, apparently. The photo shows one in the process of budding, and you don’t often see the flowers fully open.

Also unidentified and not yet fully in flower

Limodorum abortivum: Violet limodore


You’ll find more pictures of orchids that are common in France here.

Copyright © 2018 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved

About nessafrance

We moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I'm fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs. I also write historical novels and short stories.
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26 Responses to Orchids in SW France

  1. Osyth says:

    I adore orchids and the wild varieties always feel like natures most exuberant gift – so complex and individual they each are. My father-in-law campaigned to get The National Trust to buy The Holies in Streatley and was successful largely due to the abundance of rare bee orchids that grow there. I consider that just as important a legacy as his cheesing! My grandmother had an orchid named for her by a suitor who cultivated them. Despite this romantic and wonderful declaration she didn’t marry him but went rather for the naval officer who threw a piece of bread roll at her across the table at a formal dinner to get her attention – successfully as it bopped her on the nose!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Hedgerow colours | midihideaways

  3. Dear Vanessa,

    First of all, I’m a recent convert to your very interesting (and practical) blog…so, thank you for it.

    I just read your latestposting and thought “OH….she’s setting herself up for a public berating. Who in the world would ask a crowd of Englishmen/women to tell themif they’ve misidentified a plant?”.

    Ruth Draper wrote and recorded (one of her very few recordings) a predictably funny monologue about the perils of visiting one of those readily-identifiable, upper-middle class, Daughters-of-Gertrude-Jekyll, English gardeners. Heaven forbid that someone simply liked/enjoyed flowers,i n an offhand/casual fashion, and wasn’t particularly concerned about taxonomy/enjoyed or precise nomenclature. In this lady’s world, there is NO ROOM FOR AMATEURS (!) AND NO PATIENCE TO BE HAD FOR MERE HOBBYISTS(!!!).

    As I said, it’s all very funny. you can order the recordings on Amazon (if you lived nearby, I’d simply give you a copy; I expect you’ed enjoy it).

    In any case, thanks for your good blog.
    David Terry
    Hillsborough, NC

    Liked by 1 person

    • P.S. I just learned that one can’t edit after hitting “send”. Oh well…….I suppose what I sent was pretty good, to have been typed in the half-light, on my parents’ back porch, as the sun was coming up this morning.

      —-david terry

      Liked by 1 person

      • nessafrance says:

        Yes, I’m sorry about that. I can’t seem to change that setting, but it seems to be standard when commenting on blogs and websites. However, I didn’t see anything wrong with your previous comment. You are obviously an early riser…

        Thanks again for reading and commenting. 🙂


    • nessafrance says:

      Hello, David. Thank you for reading my blog and for your kind comments about it. Every time I write something I expose myself to potential rebukes from people who know a lot more about the subject than I do! Even more so when I write about specialist topics like orchids. Funnily enough, no one has yet corrected my less than educated guesses, so maybe I didn’t get it too wrong. You have rightly identified that when it comes to gardening, we Brits can be finicky to the point of obsession.

      I was interested to hear about the Ruth Draper monologue. I’d like to listen to that – I’ll check out YouTube and see if it’s on there.

      Thanks again for your interest in my blog and do let me know if there’s anything in particular that you’d be interested in reading about.

      Kind regards,



  4. Wonderful pictures – thank you for sharing them!! I must go out and see what I can find!! I’m sure they ae so abundant because of the wet winter.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. We don’t have a lawn, just a field and at the moment is is full of what I discover are orchids. There are so many of the pyramid orchids it’s impossible not to tread on them. There’s a big area covered in ophrys passionis and those orchis bouc that smell of goat are dotted about everywhere. I think the small white things by the hedge are orchids too. Must look them up. Fascinating!

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      Our lawn is mainly a mixture of moss, weeds and a bit of grass, but it’s nice and green just now. The smelly ones are colonising our lawn and are not particularly pretty. Digging them all out is too Herculean a task, though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Do you get nightingales? I ask because I’m astonished at how many we have here. Having grown up in England and only ever dreamed of hearing one, I was amazed to hear them for the first time ever this spring. Our youngest complains they keep her awake at night. They really go it, 24/24.

        Liked by 1 person

      • nessafrance says:

        We do, but they are not as numerous as when we first arrived. I don’t know if it’s that pesticide use has diminished their food sources or if there is some other reason. The terrain around here is certainly suited to them, since there are lots of thickets and they are spreading. The only time in England I ever heard one was in Oxford, in a small square with a tree in the centre. A nightingale was singing its heart out, to the delight of a small crowd that had formed to listen to it. It wasn’t until we moved here, though, that we realised how persistently they sing!


      • Between the nightingales and the golden orioles, the poor old blackbirds and thrushes don’t get much of a hearing. I’m not complaining though.

        Liked by 1 person

      • nessafrance says:

        We have some very vocal blackbirds and, actually, I prefer their song to that of the nightingales. The orioles arrived a couple of weeks ago and their bizarre sounds make us laugh.


      • The orioles have only just got here in this last week. I love that deep woody trill of theirs, but I’m with you about the blackbirds. They are my favourites too.

        Liked by 1 person

      • nessafrance says:

        The orioles have quite a versatile range of sounds, including a rather cheeky wolf whistle. One only catches rare glimpses of them in the treetops, but they are so exotic. I don’t think they migrate as far as England.


      • They do, but very few. I read they are UK’s rarest birds.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Beth Lamb says:

    There is a signposted walk above St Antonin Noble Val, on the causse, on the road towards Vaour, that is brilliant for orchids, it is worth exploring and there are various explanations about how the shepherds used to live up there.

    Liked by 2 people

    • nessafrance says:

      Yes, we have done that walk, although not at this time of year. It’s very well signposted with explanations of how people lived up there at one time.


  7. MELewis says:

    Amazing to see such beauties growing wild! Are they also unscented like the hybrids we find in shops? It’s funny, around this time in 1997 we were getting ready to move into our new house, which was still under construction in the Lyonnais. I remember what a beautiful early summer we had, picnicking outside one evening. Must’ve been an exceptional weather year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      They are lovely, aren’t they? You have to get up close to really appreciate the intricate beauty of them. I have to admit I haven’t got close enough to detect a scent, but I suspect they are unscented. Maybe another reader will put me right. However, I do know that the Lizard’s Tongue variety, whose leathery leaves grow in abundance on our lawn, is neither beautiful nor sweet-smelling. In fact it smells rather unpleasant.

      1997 had an exceptional spring. We were living in London at the time and I remember sitting outdoors in the evening in March. Not something you generally associate with the UK at that time of year.

      Liked by 1 person

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