Lizard Orchids on the Golf Course

The rare Lizard Orchid, Himantoglossum hircinum, has a taste for golf. Its UK distribution is limited. Nonetheless, it exhibits a distinct preference for the sparse grassy habitats available in the rough on Southern golf courses. It particularly favours stable dune environments at the seaside. Lizard Orchids are thriving and increasing on Burnham and Berrow Golf Course in Somerset. Why?

The Norm

Ordinarily, golf courses are exclusive clubs where groundsmen seek to recreate their own version of the legendary Belfry fairways. Grass is kept in top notch condition with chemicals, watering, rolling and constant mowing. Perish the sight of a weed.

Golf and Nature Together

Burnham and Berrow Golf Course prides itself on being a nature conservation area advised by Natural England as well as a golf course. You might think that quality golf is sacrificed. The course is ranked number 1 in Somerset. Golf Monthly recently rated the championship course at number 28 in the country’s top 100 golf courses. While looking after nature, the course has progressively improved its ranking by 19 places in just over a decade.

A Different Approach

I recently met the groundsman while botanising on the course one quiet, sunny evening. He was busy preparing the course for a forthcoming, competitive event. He expressed pride in the course’s natural bounty, efforts to increase its stewardship status and avoidance of chemicals. The encouragement of my botanical interest stood as a stark contrast to my experience on another local golf course during the Coronavirus lockdown. Locally, I was asked to leave an interesting area, ostensibly because of high chemical usage. At Burnham and Berrow, I was given tips on where to find the Lizard Orchids, their current state of flowering and the offer of a guided visit for my local botanical group.

Spot the Hidden Orchid

Lizard Orchids may be tall, but their colours are not always easy to spot amid tall grass and other vegetation (see examples below).

Extraordinary Sight

Lizard Orchids are an extraordinary sight. Once seen, never forgotten. Despite their height, their camouflage makes it easy to walk by without noticing. Why are they called after lizards? Each floret has petals and sepals that are reputed to look like a lizard’s head. Can you spot the legs and long, twisting tail in the photo below? The Latin genus name originates from Greek for strap-tongue, while the epithet means goat-like for its smell. I cannot say that I noticed it. Maybe that is because it is strongest at night or that I was treading carefully at a respectful distance?

Pollination Con Artist?

I did notice a pollinator on one flower below. It seems that the Lizard Orchid may be another trickster like the Bee Orchid giving no, or at least little, reward to its pollinators.

Pollinator on Lizard Orchid, Himantoglossum hircinum. © Karen Andrews

An Example to Follow?

Burnham and Berrow Golf Course is a botanical hotspot even without the presence of Lizard Orchids. I spotted 3 other types of Orchid during my visit and many other interesting species. I hope that many other golf courses will take a leaf out of Burnham and Berrow’s book and play a greater role in nature conservation in future. There are 3,000 golf courses in the UK, amounting to approximately 126,000 hectares of green space. Not all that land is central to the game of golf. The rough is great for wild flowers as the Somerset Lizard Orchid demonstrates.

With assistance, it seems that this rare Orchid may even benefit from climate change and spread further north.

References and Further Reading


Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.

© Karen Andrews 2018 onwards. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Andrews and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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