Albiflora abundance on Sardinia

Anacamptis morio subsp. longicornu
Anacamptis morio subsp. longicornu

There are two forms of albiflora mutations with orchids:

  • the spontaneous growth of a white-flowered form as the consequence of a genetical defect in the process of creating anthocyanine pigments, traditionally called a freak of nature, Occurence: 1-5 among 1000 plants
  • populations of white-flowered mutations as the result of an evolutionary adaptation to environmental conditions, e.g. the concurrence of other violet-flowered food-deceptive orchids, occurrence: 10 to 500 among 1000 plants

I’ve found both forms on the Sarcidano plateau, a central region of Sardinia.

On lengthy hikes between Láconi, Ortuabis und Santa Sophia I’ve seen only one single albiflora form of Orchis mascula subsp. ichnusae, with the crimson marking of the flower labellum still preserved:

Orchis mascula subsp. ichnusae
Orchis mascula subsp. ichnusae

Before, I had already seen a single Orchis anthropophora without its typical flower colouring, in the forest of Domusnovas, on southern Sardinia:

Orchis anthropophora
Orchis anthrophora

Much more frequently are the white-flowered forms of Anacamptis morio subsp. longicornu in Sarcidano. Respectively one third of the overall several thousand plants in this region has the dark violet colouring, a bright violet (or rose) colouring or are white-flowered.

Anacamptis morio subsp. longicornu
Anacamptis morio subsp. longicornu
Anacamptis morio subsp. longicornu
Anacamptis morio subsp. longicornu

You can’t find this accumulation of albiflora forms in other regions on Sardinia which I’ve visited, neither at Domusnovas/Iglesias nor in the North or at Monte Albo. There, Anacamptis morio subsp. longicornu are consistently flowered in the regular violet. The albiflora forms of Sarcidano possibly have an evolutionary advantage. In this region there are also many Orchis mascula subsp. ichnusae giving pollinators as bees the learning experience that there is no nectar in the spur at flowers with this colour and form. In the other regions Orchis mascula subsp. ichnusae was less common or not present.

Anacamptis morio subsp. longicornu
Anacamptis morio subsp. longicornu

not only orchids…

… develop white flowers while their species is supposed to have coloured flowers. This Gentiana germanica, found at Seiser Alm in the Dolomite Alps, is an example.
Gentiana germanica f. albiflora
The plant at the right side has flowers without pigments (anthocyanins). It may be viewed as “Gentiana germanica albiflora”, as Ferdinand Schur has noted in his article “Beitraege zur Flora von Wien” (Oesterreichische Botanische Zeitschrift vol. 11/1860). The correct name should be Gentiana germanica f. albiflora.

Another example found this year in the Swiss region of Aargau is Ajuga reptans f. albiflora which has acquired some horticultural importance.

Ajuga reptans f. albiflora

But neither the Gentianaceae nor the Labiatae (the family of the genus Ajuga) could be viewed as a family with a certain tendency towards developing white flowers – as it is the case with orchids. Maybe another family with an albiflora disposition are the Cactaceae. A charming web gallery of albiflora cacti has been set up by Gerd Weiss presenting more than 50 species.

A hint of colour with Gymnadenia



Most white flowering orchids have a last hint of colour in its petals, its spur or ovary. In these cases, the ability to produce pigments is clearly reduced, but obviously not totally suppressed. Studying albiflora species of Gymnadenia odoratissima in the Dolomite Alps, some plants show a rest of rose colour (left) while others still have a violet hue (right) – especially visible in the buds and in the ovary. At the slope of a meadows near the Schlern mountain there are about ten plants of Gymnadenia odoratissima with more or less white flowers.

It seems that there are different pigmets suppressed in both cases. Only plants with all colour pigments suppressed have totally white flowers. That is also clearly visible with Gymnadenia conopsea at the Puflatsch alm of the Dolomite alps.

Nigritella hues of the Dolomite Alps



The Puflatsch Alm above the alpine village Siusi is famous for its colour varietes of Nigritella nigra ssp. rhellicani. As part of a field trip in the Dolomite Alps I had the chance to explore this region with an altitude of 1990 to 2150 metres for four days. Especially rich is the flora in the surroundings of the Arnica Huette, where thousands of Nigritella and Gymnadenia conopsea are flowering in mid July. Additional orchid species are Pseudorchis albida and – in depressed areas – Dactylorhiza majalis.

Among the flowering Nigritella colour varietes are quite common, even though I couldn’t find a totally white one. All the pale-yellow or white flowering plants still had single flowers with a slight rose hue on the edges of the lip. The most common colour variety is an inflorescence with light red flowers in the upper and pale flowers in the lower part.

Not rare at all are hybrids of Nigritella nigra ssp. rhellicani with Gymnadenia conopsea. Their carmine flowers are glowing in the meadows. Interesting was a hybrid of a colour variety of Nigritella nigra ssp. rhellicani with Gymnadenia conopsea, resulting in an inflorescence (left) much lighter than with common hybrids of both species (right):