Bird's-nest orchid

Bird's-nest orchids

Bird's-nest orchids ©Les Binns

Bird's-nest orchid

Scientific name: Neottia nidus-avis
The Bird's-nest orchid gets its name from its nest-like tangle of roots. Unlike other green plants, it doesn’t get its energy from sunlight. Instead, it grows as a parasite on tree roots, so its brownish-yellow flowers look a bit sickly.

Species information


Height: up to 35cm

Conservation status

Classified as Near Threatened on the Vascular Plant Red Data List for Great Britain. Protected in Northern Ireland under the Wildlife Order, 1985.

When to see

May to July


The Bird's-nest orchid is a very strange plant. It is leafless and without the green chlorophyll of other plants that enable them to gain energy from sunlight through photosynthesis; instead, it grows as a parasite on the roots of trees, gaining its nutrients from its host. Usually found in woodland, particularly under Beech trees, this almost sickly looking, yellow plant appears from May to July.

How to identify

The Bird's-nest orchid has a brownish-yellow flower spike with small, hooded flowers clustered together. It is leafless.


Scattered distribution throughout mainland UK; locally common in Southern England and Northern Ireland.

Did you know?

Orchids are highly specialised plants found all around the globe, except in the driest deserts and on the coldest glaciers. There are at least 25,000 species of orchid, some of which live underground or grow on rocks, but many of which grow on tropical trees.

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts manage many woodland nature reserves sympathetically for the benefit of all kinds of wildlife. A mix of coppicing, scrub-cutting, ride maintenance and non-intervention all help woodland wildlife to thrive. You can help too: volunteer for your local Wildlife Trust and you could be involved in everything from traditional forest crafts to surveying for woodland plants.