Starting into 2015 I received a nice mail from Mirjana and Nebojša Jeričević living on the Dalmatian island of Korčula. They sent me photos of albiflora forms of five species, Orchis quadripunctata (above), Anacamptis pyramidalis, Himantoglossum robertianum, Dactylorhiza romana and Orchis italica. Especially interesting are those of Dactylorhiza romana. Those plants show some light yellowish hue but are not as yellow as the common yellow form of this bi-coloured species. They are are growing among violet forms and it might be assumed that they are plants whose flowers should have been violet but lost the anthocyanins pigments.
Visiting this Eastern region of Switzerland, my special interest was focussed on Epipogium aphyllum, flowering in dark forests. “Aphyllum” refers to the lacking of any leafs – and so they don’t have any chlorophyll. Some plants also miss anthocyanins – the Swiss expert of the region, Joe Meier, sent me a a photo of a totally white flower found recently. He pointed out that this form could not only be addressed as albiflora, but also as albino – following the definition of a plant without any pigments. I’ve found a plant with reduced anthocyanin in its lip, while a rose hue is still slightly existent:
The trip to the region near the charming town Scuol also confirmed the slightyl increased tendency of Gymnadenia to develop albiflora forms. While there has been quite a lot of Gymnadenia conopsea with a marked purple colour, I also met a white-flowering plant:
Most of Gymnadenia odoratissima tend to a very bright purplish colour while retaining some visible hue of it. But on a mountain meadow there was also a plant without any anthocyanin in the flowers, even the column being yellowish-whitish:
Orchis olbiensis has a colourful and a light variety, as it is stated by Kretzschmar/Eccarius/Dietrich in “Die Orchideengattungen Anacamptis, Orchis, Neotinea” (Buergel 2007, p. 322). The light variety has flower colours between rose and almost white – with a colourful lip pattern contrasting to the light background. The white-flowered plant comprises almost half of the populations in Spain, the authors observed – quite in difference to the almost purplish flowers of Orchis olbiensis in France.
Five years after visiting Orchis olbiensis for the first time in Southern France, I had now the chance to study Orchis olbiensis in Southern Spain, in the province of Malaga. Though in mid-April I’ve been quite late for this species, I found two albiflora forms of Orchis olbiensis in the limestone formation of the Torcal, near the small town of Antequera. The greater plant had nine almost white flowers with the fine purplish dots still conserved. In this habitat there were also growing Anacamptis papilionacea, Ophrys scolopax and Orchis mascula subsp. laxifloraeformis.
Finally, I’ve met her: The bee orchid at the Rhine port of Basel which has been described as Ophrys apifera var. basiliensis – in 2006, Paul Delforge “downgraded” her to Ophrys apifera f. basiliensis.
My Swiss friend Klaus Hess has told me a couple of years ago about this special population of bee orchids. Now we met at Basel and took the bus to a place called Waldhaus. There, we walked to the bank of the Rhine. Between the railway tracks and the river, limited between the container terminal to the West and the old Auhafen to the East, there is a small strip of grassland quite rich with species. Dominated by Bromus erectus, there is also growing Knautia arvensis, Geranium pyrenaicum, Leucanthemum vulgare and other flowers.
Soon Klaus found the first of these special bee orchids. They are special not only due to their lack of pigments, but also to the special form of the petals. Those are sepaloid, much longer and broader than usual with bee orchids. We are just in the beginning of the flowering time. As Klaus was looking for further plants I studied the flower with my camera – and observed the rare visit of an Andrena bee at a bee orchid. It was just a visit, not a pollination at all, though the bee carried pollen from other flowers. Ophrys apifera is autogamous, and the yellow pollinia are soon falling down to perform self fertilisation.
The next surprise on this Ascension holiday was meeting Stefan Schwegler, who has described those bee orchids as Ophrys apifera var. basiliensis (in: Orchid Review 112/2004).
He showed us a couple of other plants, among them a regular Ophrys apifera with its brown and yellow pigments as well as Platanthera chlorantha, Anacamptis pyramidalis and Dactylorhiza fuchsii. And he told us about the permanent struggle to conserve this special place against commercial interests of the port management. The population of Ophrys apifera var. basiliensis is declining, Stefan Schwegler explained, but still consists of about 100 plants. Most of them don’t flower every year, but wait for their moment to appear.
Though Dactylorhiza fuchsii is developing albiflora forms more often than other European orchids, especially in certain regions (Ireland, some German regions), there are no mentions of white-flowered Dactylorhiza saccifera. Both species are diploid and related with each other. Exploring the marsh areas of the Smolikas mountain in mid-June in Northern Greece, I’ve seen this splendid Dactylorhiza saccifera f. albiflora on wet grounds, in a height of 1200 m, embedded in Marsh Horsetails (Equisetum palustre) and accompanied by Dactylorhiza baumanniana and Neottia ovata.
In the same area there was also a white-flowered Gymnadenia conopsea with a slight purple hue.
Another highlight of the field trip to Northern Greece: three white-flowered Dactylorhiza cordigera on a clearing in the Vitsi mountain range near Kastoria. Those were surrounded by more than 1,000 cordigera plants with their characteristic deep purple colour.
The picture of albiflora forms of late flowering orchids in Northern Greece was completed by a Dactylorhiza incarnata f. albiflora near the village of Chrisi:
Two white flowered forms of Orchis are presented by Norbert Griebl in the latest edition of “Berichte aus den Arbeitskreisen Heimische Orchideen” (29/2012, 2, p.94-110). The contribution gives an overview of the seven Orchis species in Austria and shows their distribution maps. About Orchis spitzeli he notes: “In some years white or whitish plants appear at the location in Salzburg.” The paper has a photo of a second white-flowered plant, an Orchis mascula subsp. speciosa fo. albiflora. In the same edition of the “Berichte”, Adolf Riechelmann decribes his field trip to Ibiza and mentions an apochrome specimen of Ophrys dyris, found at the southern tip of the Mediterranean island. But the main article of the edition is contributed by Werner Hahn: In the footsteps of Christian von Steven. Searching orchids and pollinators in the Crimean mountains 2011 and 2012 – an exciting study of the orchid flora of the peninsula and as well as of a special chapter of the history of botany.
On the occasion of a visit to Prague I looked up some specimens at the Charles University Herbarium (PRC). In order to help a friend, I searched for the holotype of a plant which was described by the Bohemian botanist Ignaz Friedrich Tausch as Ophrys purpurea (Flora; oder, (allgemeine) botanische Zeitung. Regensburg, Jena 1831) – now regarded as a synonym of Ophrys apifera or as Ophrys apifera var. tilaventina. The holotype was said to be in the herbarium in Prague, so I searched several packages of Ophrys specimen there, with the much appreciated help of PRC’s curator Jan Stepánek.
The holotype of Ophrys purpurea was not there, but I found an interesting specimen collected by the French botanist Jean Michel Gandoger (1850-1926):
The description carries the information that Gandoger collected this plant in 1879 near Algier as Ophrys apifera f. elata, formerly described by Tausch as Ophrys purpurea:
At the end of my visit I searched a further package of specimens with dried Orchis plants – hoping to find a albiflora specimen. Instead I detected a specimen collected by Tausch as Jan Stepánek confirmed by examining the hand-written label with the nomber “1470” attached to the stipe of the plant:
A further label written by an unknown person has the information: “Orchis mascula L. vom berge Rhadisken bei Leitmeritz” – this information matches the catalogue of “Fundorte der Flora Boehmens nach weiland Professor Ignaz Friedrich Tausch’s Herbarium Florae Bohemicae alphabetisch geordnet von Johann Ott”, published 1859 in Prague:
So who was this Ignaz Friedrich Tausch? The Bohemian botanist was born on January 29th, 1793, in Udrči near Karlovy Vary. After his thesis about “De inflorescentia” (1835) he was director of the botanical garden of duke Canal de Malabaillas in Prague. He studied a broad spectre of plants and published “Bemerkungen über einige Arten der Gattung Paeonia” (1828) as well as his Flora Bohemiae (1831). Tausch was all his life rather poor, Stepánek told me. So he sold dried plants ot different herbariums. Tausch died on 8th September 1848 in Prague.
Two great publication projects about European orchids are being prepared which will meet high expectations. At the 16th Orchid Conference in Sundheim (near Kehl, Southwest Germany), Wolfgang Eccarius offered a first look into his project of a monography about the genus Dactylorhiza – the planned publication year will be 2015. Among the about 50 participants of the conference, coming from Germany, Switzerland, France and the Netherlands, was Karel Kreutz who is working on an opus of 6 to 7 volumes about all the orchids in Europe, which is expected to be published probanly in 2016.
At the beginning of the meeting, Helmut Baumann showed a series of impressive videos showing pollinators of different orchid species. Helmut Presser presented photos of his latest Greece journey, Peter Goelz showed pictures taken at two different locations of Ophrys kreutzii in Turkey and the Essink couple shared impressions from Rhodos.
In my contribution about “Colour polymorphism with Dactylorhiza – Evolution as a continuing process” I presented my studies about Dactylorhiza fuchsii and the calcifugiens location in Northern Danmark. After a partly controversial debate, Wolfgang Eccarius talked about the specific difficulties of his Dactylorhiza project. The common genetical methods to differentiate between species, such as the construction of cladograms by means of an analysis of the DNA’s ITS regions, may be used only with great caution in this case, he said. “This doesn’t function at all”, if a species has developed from two species. Therefore, he intends to base his book of about 600 pages on a rather broad concept of species. At the beginning, there was a comprehensive study of literature, including about 1100 protologues (original decriptions). “This fact alone implies that the nomenclature of this genus will be a giant challenge”, Eccarius said. In order to concentrate on the essentials, he only wants to present species and subspecies in length, without ignoring varieties. “I succeeded in looking into all typesheets”, Eccarius said – with one exception: “I’m still missing the typesheet of Dactylorhiza incarnata subsp. baumgartneriana. The typesheet cannot be found in Stuttgart, where it is said to be.” This subspecies, described by B. and H. Baumann, R. Lorenz and R. Peter in 2003, later described by Kreutz und Sebastian Sczepanski as Dactylorhiza kafiriana subsp. baumgartneriana, is named after Harald Baumgartner, the organiser of the Sundheim Orchid Conference.
In a paper published in the latest edition of the Journal Europaeischer Orchideen (vol 44, 2/2012, p. 421-426), Wolfgang Wucherpfennig reviews the recent publications about the phylogenetic tree of the Monocotyledonae. He points out that the Orchidaeceae are between 104 and 120 million years old (A in the phylogenetic tree) and that the first orchids have been grazed by dinosaurs. So, orchids are in fact older than their relatives in the Amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae) or the Asparagus family (Asparagaceae). Only the differentiation of the genera of orchids (B in the phylogenetic tree) has a more recent age and happened between 76 and 84 million years ago. Wucherpfennig concludes: “So, orchids are not a young plant family at all, they have a dignified age. But very old families also have small children which are enterprising and adventurous such as Ophrys and Dactylorhiza.”
Thanks to all the contributions to this project website albiflora.eu I’ve compiled a first paper about the white-coloured forms of orchids, published in Berichte aus den Arbeitskreisen Heimische Orchideen (1/2012, p. 141-170). Following a short overview about taxonomic aspects the relationship of flower colour and fertilizers are discussed. The main part considers the differences of albiflora forms with particular genera of orchids. The paper finishes with a discussion of high frequencies of albiflora forms with Dactylorhiza fuchsii in Western Ireland and certain regions in Germany. Where does random mutation ends and where begins an evolutionary process? One possible scenario might be that nectar deceptive orchids flowering earlier than Dactylorhiza fuchsii – as there are Orchis mascula or Dactylorhiza majalis – impart fertilizing insects the experience that flowers with a certain form and a purple colour don’t grant them any nectar. Thus, a colour change to white might be an advantage. The German language paper can be downloaded here.