Gymnadenia conopsea x Nigritella rhellicani with white flowers

In the latest edition of the Berichte aus den Arbeitskreisen Heimische Orchideen (Jg 34, Heft 2, 2017, S.123-145), Norbert Griebl presents the diversity of alpine orchid hybrids on the meadows of the Golzentipp mountain (2317 m) in Eastern Tirol. Among them there is also a white-flowered hybrid of Gymnadenia conopsea and Nigritella rhellicani (Gymnigritella suaveolens). Griebl views two possible options:

  • a white-flowered Nigritella rhellicani, which can be rarely found at the Golzentipp, and a white-flowered Gymnadenia conopsea, which is not rare in this region, have hybridized
  • a spontaneous mutation of a hybrid affecting the production of color pigments.

Griebl sees a higher probability for the second case. This is supported by the fact that there have been no reports of such an Albiflora hybrid in other regions with color varieties of Nigritella rhellicani and white-flowered Gymnadenia conopsea, for example on the Seiser Alm in Southern Tirol – though these Suaveolens hybrids can be regularly seen there.

Albiflora forms of Orchis in Austria

aho29_2 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.

Colour AND form variety of Anacamptis morio

Anacamptis morio
Oops, that’s a quite special Anacamptis morio which Norbert Griebl has found near Sittendorf, southwest of Vienna. In addition to the absence of anthocyanins (which happens quite often with this species) the lip has the same form as the sepals, with green veins. Here, not only the colour of the flower has changed, but also its morphological pattern.

Rare albiflora form of Orchis spitzelii

In OrchideenJournal 3/2009, Josefa and Richard Thoma describe how they have found two white flowering plants of Orchis spitzelii for the first time in a region they have been visiting for about 20 years. This location in the Alps near Salzburg is the only place where Orchis spitzelii can be found in Austria.

In June 2009, the couple counted 17 plants when Josefa was surprised to find two white flowering Orchis spitzelii. “I didn’t trust my ears”, writes Richard Thoma describing his feelings when his wife exclaimed: “Two whites!” The author named the rare color variation “Orchis spitzelii f. albovirida” – with regard to the green perigone containing chlorophyll pigments.

“Why now, of all times?”, Thoma asks and is looking forward to next year when the want to see if the white forms appear again.

Maybe it’s more than just a “freak of nature” as Thoma is assuming. More substantial research is needed to see if there is a certain function which could explain why certain orchid species develop albiflora forms. Special thanks to Richard Thoma for contributing his photos of the white flowering Orchis spitzelii to

Flower colour matters

The females of this crab spider (Misumena vatia) can change their colour depending on the colour of the flower where they sit and wait for a prey. On a white flower they have a white body, on yellow flowers it is changed to an intense yellow (right, photo: Olaf Leillinger). Thus, the albiflora form of Dactylorhiza fuchsii (left, photo: Norbert Griebl) is quite a convenient place to hunt insects – the standard purple colour of this orchid would not fit her camouflage strategy. The spider changes its colour by secreting a yellow pigment into the outer cell layer of its body.While sitting on white flowers, this pigment is transported into lower layers.┬áThe colour change from white to yellow takes between 10 and 25 days, the reverse about six days.

Dactylorhiza traunsteineri

The magazine of the Arbeitskreise Heimische Orchideen (AHO) has an article of Norbert Griebl in its latest edition giving an overview about the Dactylorhiza species in Austria. His contribution presents two photos of white varieties – a Dactylorhiza traunsteineri, the photo taken at lake Kochel in Bavaria,and a bright flowering Dactylorhiza incarnata, which is defined als Dactylorhiza incarnata f. ochrantha- with a yellowish accent in the lower part of the inflorescence but not as yellow as Dactylorhiza incarnata ssp. ochroleuca – Griebl views this taxon not as a subspecies but as a species of its own, since he argues that there are almost none hybrids between incarnata and ochroleuca.

In an article about maintenance of biotops in Rhineland-Palatinate Juergen Passin mentions a habitat near Vallendar on the Rhine “Orchis militaris, also var. albiflora”.