Where The Naked Man Orchid Plant Got Its Cheeky Nickname (& Where To Grow Them)

If you've ever studied the plants in your garden or during a nature walk, at some point you've probably paused on a plant and thought, "Wow, that looks ... interesting." Sometimes nature has a sense of humor, and there's no shortage of funny-looking plants in the world, but the naked man orchid might take the cake for its ability to make us giggle. Orchis italica is also called the Italian orchid, but it's frequently described as the naked man orchid or hanging man orchid. A closer look at these beautiful blooms may reveal exactly where the name comes from; each flower head is decorated by rows of petals, each resembling a tiny person — and more specifically, a male person — with two arms, two legs, two little eyes, and a certain male appendage.

The naked man orchid is a sight sought after by many botanists and plant enthusiasts, but even for the average person, the idea of little nude creatures sprouting up from the ground sounds like something out of a fantasy novel. Add to that, the naked man orchid is grown for culinary and medicinal benefits. Some might be tempted to bring this plant home as a fun, chuckle-worthy garden statement, but acquiring and growing this delicate orchid can be complicated. Here's what you need to know about the naked man orchid and everything you should know before planting this quirky flower.

This orchid is a mirthful Mediterranean native

Orchis italica is native to the Mediterranean region and parts of the Eastern Europe, where it grows in patches across meadows, rocky coastlines, and woodland borders in somewhat chalky and alkaline soil. The mature plant reaches about 18 inches in height, with blooms that emerge in spring in varying shades of pink. Rarely, white blooms can also appear. The flowerheads look like clusters of tiny dangling men, each like a little paper doll hanging by his hat. This isn't the only flower known to produce remarkably humanoid petals; it shares a genus with the monkey orchid (O. simia), the soldier orchid (O. militaris), and the man orchid (O. anthropophora), which also have blooms that look like funky little figures. 

They say that laughter is the best medicine, but the naked man orchid can do more than just give you a healthy giggle. While it might not be one of the typical culinary plants to grow in a Mediterranean garden, the naked man orchid is also edible, with herbal benefits that have been recognized for centuries! Orchis italica has a large bulb root that can be harvested and ground for salep powder. Traditionally, this sugary powder has been consumed to treat gastrointestinal issues or mixed with sugar and hot milk to create a warm, creamy beverage popular in Turkey. Some people also believe that the plant can improve a man's virility, but there is no scientific data to back up these claims. 

Acquiring and caring for a naked man orchid

The idea of "raining men" might be a far-fetched weather phenomenon, but can you grow little men in your garden? While it is fairly common in its native regions, this orchid is considered to be a pretty rare houseplant or garden plant to have in North America. Like many other orchids, Orchis italica has a protected status. Although it is not currently threatened or endangered, it is still illegal to dig it up and remove it from its natural environment. Acquiring the seeds for this plant might seem easy, with a simple internet search yielding tons of results, but orchids require a very specific mycorrhiza fungi to kickstart and fuel early germination. To find a mature plant, you may need to visit an exotic plant nursery or orchid collectors' show, ensuring that the orchid was grown or propagated in a responsible way. 

If you're lucky enough to acquire such a special orchid, you'll want to avoid any common mistakes that are sure to kill an orchid. This plant is best grown indoors in bright, indirect sunlight, but may survive in USDA zones 4 through 8. Keep the orchid's environment around 40% to 60% humidity. Water regularly with rainwater or distilled water is best to ensure no contaminants from tap water will harm the plant. Well-drained soil is a must for the naked man orchid; it is vulnerable to fungal and bacterial issues if it sits too long with a soggy bottom.