Epipogium aphyllum

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ghost orchid
Ghost orchid flower
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Asparagales
Family: Orchidaceae
Subfamily: Epidendroideae
Genus: Epipogium
E. aphyllum
Binomial name
Epipogium aphyllum

Satyrium epipogium L.

Epipogium aphyllum, the ghost orchid, is a hardy mycoheterotrophic orchid lacking chlorophyll.[2] It is one of the rarest representatives of Orchidae family.[3]

It is famous for its unpredictable appearance; in many localities it has been seen just once.[4] It is found in beech, oak, pine, and spruce forests on base-rich soils. It is a rare and critically endangered plant in habitat, and is believed to be extinct throughout much of its former range, although it has been recently confirmed in the United Kingdom (2009), an area where the plants were believed to have gone extinct.[5]

The plants are protected in many locales, and removing the plants from habitat or disturbing the plants, even for scientific study, can be a very serious matter in many jurisdictions. These plants are exceptionally rare and should never be removed from habitat or disturbed.[6]

In 1926 the Welsh botanist Eleanor Vachell was asked by the British Museum to investigate a report of the ghost orchid in England. For many years the Welsh National Herbarium at Amgueddfa Cymru (National Museum of Wales) had only a small rhizome that had been gathered by Vachell on 29 May 1926.[5]


Once thought to be saprophytic, these hardy plants are actually obligate mycoheterotrophs (or epiparasites) that obtain nutrients from mycorrhizal networks involving basidiomycete fungi that are in turn associated with the roots of various species of coniferous trees. They grow from an underground, burrowing stem which lacks chlorophyll and possesses ephemeral leaves that are small scales. The plants only emerge above ground to flower, especially during very wet summers in Western Europe.

These plants harness an array of fungal symbionts across several families, often simultaneously. Analysis of these plants have identified ectomycorrhizal Inocybe species as exclusive symbionts for 75% of the plants in habitat, as well as others (Hebeloma, Xerocomus, Lactarius and Thelephora).[7] The plants also host ascomycete endophytes, which appear to assist the plant in parasitizing some of the plant's basidiomycete symbionts.[6]

The plants defy cultivation outside of laboratory conditions, as they require not only specific fungal symbionts, but also specific host trees with which these mushroom species form mycorrhizal relationships. Large plants of this species can produce a rather stunning woodland display with up to a dozen flower stalks at once bearing 3–4 flowers each growing out of coniferous leaf litter.[4]

The flowers are most likely pollinated by bumblebees; to reproduce, it produces numerous dust-like seeds that are dispersed by the wind over long distances.[7]

Chromosome number is often stated as 2n = 68, though one research article questions whether this value could be for a different Epipogium species.[8]

Researchers recently discovered in 2016 that a certain rare European Epipogium aphyllum displayed both forms of asexual and sexual reproduction. The study was conducted in northern Poland where a population was observed going through gametophyte development with unpollinated flower buds.[9]


The plants have an extremely wide range of distribution. The species is widespread across much of the temperate zone in northern and central Europe, Russia[10] and northern Asia from Spain to Kamchatka and south the Himalayas.[3][11][12] There are hotspots of records ranging from the boreal regions of Scandinavia stretching as far south as the Pyrenees, the Vercors Massif, northern Greece, and Crimea. It was reported for the first time on Mount Željin in central Serbia for the first time in 2023; the estimated IUCN conservation status in Serbia is Endangered (EN).[13] In Asia, Epipogium aphyllum is considered vulnerable in Mongolia and endangered in both Japan and China; however in North and South Korea, it is not considered threatened.[14]

Although its conservation status, per the 2011 IUCN 3.1 assessment in Europe, was Least Concern (LC) due to its low risk of extinction, it is, however, exceptionally rare in habitat. It is protected or listed on the IUCN red list of nearly 56 countries.[7] The plants are all found in areas which typically experience cold winters. The plant's rhizomes are densely colonized by fungi bearing clamp-connections and dolipores, all basidiomycetes, gill or pore-forming mushroom species that are normally found growing in mycorrhizal association with the roots of coniferous trees.

Only in July does Epipogium aphyllum appear above ground in northwestern Russia. Late July and the early part of August are when the blossoming period occurs. Notably, isolated specimens have been known to blossom until September in exceptional cases.[3]


  1. ^ Rankou, H. (2011). "Epipogium aphyllum (Europe assessment)". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2011: e.T176021A7174447. Retrieved 3 December 2023.
  2. ^ UKTV Viewer Enquiries. Plants Behaving Badly. Murder and Mayhem. Blu-ray. UPC 4006448510039
  3. ^ a b c Efimov, P. G., & Sorokina, I. A. (2011). Epipogium aphyllum in NW-European Russia: distribution and habitats. Journal Europäischer Orchideen, 43(1), 99-118.
  4. ^ a b Juliette Jowit (March 8, 2010). "Ghost orchid comes back from extinction". The Guardian.
  5. ^ a b Ghost orchids - a fleeting occurrence in dark, shaded woods, 3 July 2013, Museum of Wales, retrieved 21 August 2016
  6. ^ a b Melanie Roy; Takahiro Yagame; Masahide Yamato; Koji Iwase; Christine Heinz; Antonella Faccio; Paola Bonfante; Marc-Andre Selosse (2009). "Ectomycorrhizal Inocybe species associate with the mycoheterotrophic orchid Epipogium aphyllum but not its asexual propagules". Annals of Botany. 104 (3): 595–610. doi:10.1093/aob/mcn269. PMC 2720653. PMID 19155220.
  7. ^ a b c Minasiewicz, Julita; Krawczyk, Emilia; Znaniecka, Joanna; Vincenot, Lucie; Zheleznaya, Ekaterina; Korybut-Orlowska, Joanna; Kull, Tiiu; Selosse, Marc-André (March 2022). "Weak population spatial genetic structure and low infraspecific specificity for fungal partners in the rare mycoheterotrophic orchid Epipogium aphyllum". Journal of Plant Research. 135 (2): 275–293. Bibcode:2022JPlR..135..275M. doi:10.1007/s10265-021-01364-7. ISSN 0918-9440. PMC 8894228. PMID 34993702.
  8. ^ Taylor, Lin; Roberts, David L. (4 September 2011). "Biological Flora of the British Isles: Epipogium aphyllum Sw". Journal of Ecology. 99 (3): 878–890. Bibcode:2011JEcol..99..878T. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2745.2011.01839.x.
  9. ^ Krawczyk, Emilia; Rojek, Joanna; Kowalkowska, Agnieszka K.; Kapusta, Małgorzata; Znaniecka, Joanna; Minasiewicz, Julita (2016-06-09). "Evidence for mixed sexual and asexual reproduction in the rare European mycoheterotrophic orchid Epipogium aphyllum, Orchidaceae (ghost orchid)". Annals of Botany. 118 (1): 159–172. doi:10.1093/aob/mcw084. ISSN 0305-7364. PMC 4934402. PMID 27288512.
  10. ^ Krawczyk, Emilia; Rojek, Joanna; Kowalkowska, Agnieszka K.; Kapusta, Małgorzata; Znaniecka, Joanna; Minasiewicz, Julita (2016-06-09). "Evidence for mixed sexual and asexual reproduction in the rare European mycoheterotrophic orchid Epipogium aphyllum, Orchidaceae (ghost orchid)". Annals of Botany. 118 (1): 159–172. doi:10.1093/aob/mcw084. ISSN 0305-7364. PMC 4934402.
  11. ^ "Epipogium aphyllum [Epipogio senza foglie] - Flora Italiana". luirig.altervista.org. Retrieved 4 September 2019.
  12. ^ "Epipogium aphyllum in Flora of China @ efloras.org". www.efloras.org. Retrieved 4 September 2019.
  13. ^ Sabovljevic, Marko; Tomovic, Gordana; Taşkın, Hatıra; Assyov, Boris; Skondric, Sinisa; Peric, Ranko; Sabovljevic, Aneta; Dragicevic, Snezana; Markovic, Aleksandra; Knezevic, Jelena; Lobnik, Cimerman; Strgulc-Krajsek, Simona; Djordjevic, Vladan; Krdzic, Svetlana; Ilchev, Ivilin (2023). "New records and noteworthy data of plants, algae and fungi in SE Europe and adjacent regions, 15". Botanica Serbica. 47 (2): 361–374. doi:10.2298/BOTSERB2302361S. ISSN 1821-2158.
  14. ^ Wang, Si-Qi; Dong, Xue-Yun; Ye, Liang; Wang, Hong-Feng; Ma, Ke-Ping (2023-06-07). "Flora of Northeast Asia". Plants. 12 (12): 2240. doi:10.3390/plants12122240. ISSN 2223-7747. PMC 10304201. PMID 37375866.

External links[edit]