Orchid conference in Neumuehl: Rescue mission in Switzerland

An unusual rescue mission in the canton Zurich was subject of the 2018 orchids conference in Kehl-Neumuehl, Germany. In this Swiss region, nutrient-poor grassland and bright forests have been dramatically reduced, René Gaemperle explained. Reasons are – as in other regions – the over fertilization of the intense agriculture and the increased building activity: “Where the hills are most beautiful, country residences are built”, Gaemperle said.

In order to strengthen weak populations like Ophrys araneola, Gaemperle cooperated with officials and organized manual pollination, collection of seeds, mixture of seeds with river sand and sowing. If the appropriate symbiosis fungus is in soil, this method works rather soon, explained Gaemperle. The time from sowing to first flowering is just three to six years.

He chose a different method with Anacamptis coriophora: Seed capsules from the Lake constance habitat Wollmatinger Ried have been sent to an expert for in vitro culture in Sweden. The young plants have then been planted at seven places in canton Zurich, overall 525 plants until 2015. In this year 56 of those plants have flowered, Gaemperle told. When species are threatened by extinction, such methods are the only way to save them. “If we don’t act now, they will vanish forever.”

Threatened orchid species are also an issue for Peter Steinfeld who lectured about the nature reservate Bliesgau in the German state of Saarland. Steinfeld has been observing the changes of the regional flora for 35 years. According to him, Cephalanthera rubra is threatened by extinction in Saarland – he found the last flowering plants  in Bliesgau about 20 years ago. Heavily decreasing is also Dactylorhiza viridis. But Limodorum abortivum is expanding, probably coming from the French region of Lorraine. The same case is with Ophrys sphegodes and Orchis simia. As another “profiteer of climate change” Steinfeld named Himantoglossum hircinum. Climate change was also the subject of my lecture with impressions of this summer on Gotland, Sweden. Jean-Marc Haas also reported about dried out places in Uzbekistan.

At the conference with more than 60 participants from four countries, which was organized by Harald Baumgartner and Hubert Heitz, Helmuth Zelesny lectured about a field trip to the Golzentipp mountain in Eastern Tyrol, with colour variants of Nigritella rhellicani in white, yellow and carmine. In this region at the edges of the Lienz Dolomites Gymnadenia conopsea is also quite often white-flowered. Hybrids of both species display a big variety of forms. Not so common is the hybrid of Gymnadenia conopsea with Pseudorchis albida. Nigritella rubra is flowering on lime stone. The variety of the orchid flora on this Alpine meadows has also been described by Norbert Griebl in his paper published by AHO-Berichte.

Helmut Presser lectured about new taxons related to Ophrys holoserica and Ophrys scolopax in France as there are Ophrys demangei and Ophrys quercophila, the oak loving Ophrys. Hartmut Moeller again showed impressive photos of pollinators, this time he observed Epipactis palustris with potter wasps, bumblebees and beetles.

white flowering in Engadine

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:

Epipogium aphyllum

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:

Gymnadenia conopsea

Gymnadenia conopsea

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:

Gymnadenia odoratissima

a dream in green and white: Ophrys apifera in Basel

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.

Ophrys apifera var. 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.

Basel Rheinhafen

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.

Ophrys apifera var. basiliensis

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).

Basel Rheinhafen

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.

Colour plays with Nigritella rhellicani

Nigritella rhellicani
In July, the dark red heads of Nigritella rhellicani (syn: Nigritella nigra ssp. rhellicani) are covering many alpine meadows. In some rare places, the flowers show remarkable colour variatation. After studying the Nigritella hues of the Dolomite Alps, this year I visited the Swiss canton Valais: Near Chandolin there is a place in an altitude of about 2400 m with pink and yellow flowering Nigritella rhellicani. The tableau above shows the colour varieties in both the Dolomites and Switzerland. The yellow flowering forms grow near Chandolin – they obviously miss the anthocyanins, but have other pigments as probably carotenoids. The reasons for this special forms are unknown up to now.
Nigritella rhellicani