Friday, January 16, 2015

Overview of many wild orchids found in the Cantabrian Mountains.

Deze post in het Nederlands: Klik hier.

This post is written with the intention to give a detailed account of a large number of wild orchids which can be found in the Cantabrian Mountains (Cordillera Cantabrica in Spanish) of northern Spain. To be more specific, those species that I've managed to photograph during the past year. Of many species I have put in a picture, not just to embellish this post, but mainly to illustrate the great variety of orchids. The majority has been localized around my hometown Cistierna, situated in the province of Leon, including quite a few who did not even belong to occur there, at least according to the official literature. So you see what a thorough fieldwork can bring to the scientific daylight. The species names are shown in orange and the generic names in magenta.


Cephalanthera rubra
Epipactis bugacensis
Epipactis palustris
Epipactis helleborine
Limodorum abortivum

Epipactis atrorubens

The flora of Spain is very abundant and this is certainly true with regard to the wild orchids. Just in the Cantabrian Mountains I have photographed 63 species in the last year. Like many other plants, most orchids are bound to a very specific environment. Some species, including many members of the genus Ohrys, can grow on very dry and arid plains and in full sun. Other species grow mainly in forests (eg. the Sword-leaved Helleborine), in meadows (Anacamptis picta) or in waterlogged soils (Marsh Helleborine). In this post I will try to give an overview of the different genera and species of wild orchids that are found in these beautiful mountains. The application of genetic research over the past 15 years caused a lot of name changes. For example, the scientific name of the famous Burnt Orchid has changed from Orchis ustulata in Neotinea ustulata. To clarify, in this post I largely follow the naming according to Bateman.

We start with the genus Cephalanthera. All three species found in Western Europe are also present in the Cantabrian Mountains. Which are the Sword-leaved Helleborine (C. longifolia), the White Helleborine (C. damasonium) and the Red Helleborine (C. rubra). While we can´t speak of common orchids, of all three species we have found several populations and many hundreds (to thousands) of individuals.

Of the genus Epipactis (Helleborines)we have observed 7 representatives: The Dark Red Helleborine (E. atrorubens), a very rare orchid that sometimes locally can be very numerous; The Broad-leaved Helleborine (E. helleborine), a common species in Europe which in this region is rarely found flowering; The inconspicuous Epipactis microphylla, a very rare orchid in the Cantabrian Mountains; The Marsh Helleborine (E. palustris), not very common, but of which we were able to locate quite a few sites; The Epipactis bugacensis (or E. rhodanensis), that mainly grows along river; The more common Epipactis tremolsi and a large population of many hundreds, if not several thousands, of the in our mountains very rare Epipactis kleinii.
Of the two representatives of the genus Limodorum I only managed to photograph the Violet Limodore (L. abortivum). This sun-and limestone-loving orchid grows mainly between Portuguese oaks (Quercus faginea) and evergreen oaks (Quercus ilex).

Of the genus Neottia we have photographed two species: The Bird's-nest Orchid (Neottia nidus-avis) and the Common Twayblade (Neottia ovata). The first orchid is mainly found in beech forests, while the Common Twayblade is significantly less concerned about specific environments. The latter, which until recently was assigned to the genus Listera, is a good example of the many recent name changes.

From the inconspicuous genus Ladies Tresses (Spiranthes) both the Summer Ladies-tresses (S. aestivalis) and the Autumn Ladies-tresses (S. spiralis) are present. The first is quite rare in the Cantabrian Mountains, although the flowering period in August and the unnoticeable little flowers have undoubtedly led to an underestimation of the actual spread. At least, we have been able to find some 10 populations around my hometown. Actually applies To the Summer Laides-tresses we can actually apply the same story, although this orchid is more common in the eastern part of the Cordillera Cantabrica.

Neottia nidus-avisSpiranthes aestivalisPlatanthera chlorantha

The genus Platanthera tells two representatives. Of the fairly rare Greater Butterfly-orchid (P. chlorantha) five populations were found, with a total of about 300 flowering plants. Regarding the almost as rare Lesser Butterfly-orchid (P. bifolia) our investigations have yielded a great success: many previously unknown populations were found.
Dactylorhiza maculata

The genus Gymnadenia is represented by four species. The rather common Fragrant Orchid (G. conopsea) can be found in many places and in different habitats, but especially on slightly damp soil. The very rare Gymnadenia densiflora, often regarded as a variant of the Fragrant Orchid has a very dense inflorescence and a habitat that consists of a completely water-saturated soil and has always be found together with the Marsh Helleborine. Both different inflorescence and habitat support the claim to belong to a separate species, although the final decisive answer will probably be given by genetic research.
The Gymnadenia odoratissima is even rarer than the preceding species, and wasn´t located until last year. The Gymnadenia gabasiana, formerly belonging to the genus Nigritella is an endemic orchid of the Cantabrian Mountains and the Pyrenees. This late blooming orchid can be seen in August flowering at the highest peaks, even passing the 2000 meters of altitud.

Within the genus of the Marsh Orchids or Spotted Orchids (Dactylorhiza), the difference between species and subspecies can be unclear. The Marsh Orchids can be divided into five groups, each named after a species that is characteristic of the group.
The Sambucina Group has three representatives in the Cantabrian Mountains: The Elder-flowered Orchid (D. sambucina), a yellow orchid with many red speckles on the lip. This orchid sometimes has flowers of a purple-red color; Dactylorhiza insularis, slightly slimmer in stature than the lformer, with only two large red dots on the lip (sometimes four) and a thinner spur. The Dactylorhiza sulphurea (D. markusii) is completely yellow and has a lip without red dots.
The Incarnata Group has only one member, namely the early Marsh Orchid (D. incarnata), as indicated by its name, this orchid loves marshy areas and stream banks.
Also the Majalis Group counts only one member in the Cantabrian Mountains: the Robust Marsh Orchid (D. elata). This orchid takes the place of the in Western Europe growing Common Marsh Orchid (D. majalis).
The Maculata Group has three members, at least if we count the Dactylorhiza ericetorum as an independent species. This orchid can also be considered to be a white variant or subspecies of the Heath Spotted Orchid (D. maculata). Both species prefer a moist acidic soil, in contrast to the rather uncommon Common Spotted Orchid (D. fuchsii), which is mainly found on slightly wet lime soils.
The fifth group is formed by the Frog Orchid (D. viridis), which until recently was considered to belong to the genus Coeglossum.

Gymnadenia conopsea
Gymnadenia gabasiana
Gymnadenia odoratissima
Dactylorhiza incarnata
Dactylorgiza insularis

Of the genus Serapias we have located three species. The Tongue Orchid (S. lingua) is a fairly widespread orchid, while the Serapias cordigera mainly occurs in the lower and climatically milder parts of the Cordillera (Asturias and Cantabria). The Serapias parviflora is an extremely rare and also very inconspicuous orchid, which last year was discovered only a few miles from my hometown. The Long Lipped Serapias (S. vomeracea) has been found in 2006 in the most eastern part of the Cantabrian Mountains by the Dutchman Venhuis. This orchid is (still) not photographed.

Serapias cordigeraSerapias linguaAnacamptis champagneuxii

Genetic research has led to a substantial increase in the genus Anacamptis, which has grown from one to five species. In our region very common Pyramidal Orchid (A. pyramidalis) is now no longer the only representative of this genus. The rather rare Anacamptis champagneuxii almost always occurs in company with the Anacamptis picta. Both species are sometimes considered to be subspecies of the Green-winged Orchid (A. morio).

Anacamptis coriophora

Anacamptis pyramidalis

Neotinea maculata

Neotinea ustulata

Orchis mascula

Along the southern edge of the Cantabrian Mountains, the A. picta is a very common orchid, sometimes flourishing in fields with hundreds of thousands together. The Butterfly Orchid (A. papilionacea) is very rare in the whole Cantabrian Mountains and actually is considered not to occur around my hometown. Nevertheless, we found several large populations. The Bug Orchid (A. coriophora) feels at home in fairly moist and preferably acidic soils.
The genus Neotinea has recently been expanded with Burnt Orchid (N. ustulata, formerly Orchis ustulata), which grows scattered in many places. The second memberof this genus is the Dense-flowered Orchid (N. maculata).Of this very rare orchid we have found plants with white flowers and unspotted leaves as well as individuals with pink flowers and mottled leaves.
Despite the loss of several of its members, which have been transferred to the genus Anacamptis, the genus Orchis still counts with an impressive number of orchids. In our region, there are nine species, four of which are very to extremely rare, namely: The Pale-flowered Orchid (O. pallens), the Orchis provincialis, the Orchid (O. italica) and the in Spain extremely rare Orchis spitzelii. The Military Orchid (O. militaris) is only found in the province of Burgos. The Lady Orchid (O. purpurea) is quite rare in the West, but more common to the east. The very common Early Purple Orchid (O. mascula) and the Orchis langei, which looks like a slender variant of the O.mascula. The newly added Man Orchid (O. anthropophora, formerly Aceras anthropophorum) is also quiet common.
The genus Himantoglossum is represent by the rather common Lizard Orchid (H. hircinum), which is especially widespread around my hometown and the Giant Orchid (H. robertianum, formerly Barlia robertiana).
The latter is a lover of mild winters and therefore only occurs in lower regions of the Cantabrian Mountains, at elevations below 700 meters.

Orchis militaris

Orchis pallens

Orchis spitzeli

Ophrys apifera

Ophrys castellano

Also the genus Ophrys counts a large number of members and well as many as 11 species; although the difference between species and sub-species is not always clear. The species which are generally recognized and which are clearly distinguishable in the field we name first: The Bee Orchid (O. apifera) which is not very common and usually occurs in small numbers at a time; the Fly Orchis (O. insectifera), quite rare and not a lover of drought; The very rare Yellow Bee-orchid (O. lutea), but of which we managed to find more than a dozen populations (although also this orchid is supposed not to occur in the whole province!)

Ohrys speculumOphrys luteaOphrys tenthredenifera

The Woodcock Bee.orchid (O. scolopax) which is clearly identifiable by the protruding appendage of the lip. Of the in the Cantabrian Mountains extremely rare Mirror Bee-orchid (O. speculum) we have found one specimen in the province of León, which is the most western occurrence of this species in Spain. The Sawfly Orchid (O. tenthredenifera) is especially very numerous in our region. The SomberBee-orchid (O. fusca) is found both along the northern edge and along the southern edge of the Cantabrian Mountains, while Ophrys bilunata and Ophrys dyris (both also viewed as subspecies of O. fusca) only are observed along the southern edge. Of the Sphegodes Group the following species have been photographed: the Early Spider-orchid (O. sphegodes), Ophrys castellano, Ophrys incubacea and Ophrys araneola. Again, there is no common agreement about the different species and / or subspecies.


  1. Wat een prachtige orchideeen laat je allemaal zien Marius. Ik heb een aantal huiskamerorchideeen maar die kunnen niet op tegen de schoonheid van de wilde.

    1. Graag gedaan, Marijke. Ik denk dat als je die huiskamerorchideeën in het wild tegen zou komen dat je ze ook fantastisch zou vinden.


  2. Schitterend. Klopt het dat ik het vrouwenschoentje mis? Had ik daar ook wel verwacht eigenlijk.

  3. Je hebt gelijk Gerrit, het vrouweschoentje schittert door afwezigheid. Deze orchidee komt in Spanje alleen nog maar in de Pyreneeën en ook hier gaat die helaas achteruit.


  4. Fantástico reportaje Marius. Es sorprendente la variedad y cantidad de orquídeas que has encontrado en la zona. Un post bien construido y con hermosas fotografías. Un saludo

    1. Gracias Angel, es verdad que hay muchas más orquídeas de lo que se supone que deberían de haber!! Por otro lado, dedico mucho más tiempo buscando nuevas orquídeas que cualquier profesor de la Universidad se puede permitir y eso tiene sus resultados. El post está construída con mis nuevos conocimientos de html, ja,ja.

      Un saludo.

  5. Extremely beautiful flower photographs!! I really love capturing nature photographs. My cousin is a popular Port Macquarie Photographer and he has given me some photography tips. I always keep those things in mind!