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Fragrant Orchid

Gymnadenia conopsea

  • Family: Orchid Family – Orchidaceae
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Root tubers lobed.
  • Height: 15–50 (6–20 in.) cm. Stem sturdy–quite delicate.
  • Flower: Perianth irregular (zygomorphic), usually pink, rarely white, approx. 1 cm (0.4 in.) wide. Tepals 6, in 2 whorls, of which one elaborated into labellum. Labellum under perianth, spurred, uniformly colored, tip shallowly 3-lobed–almost entire. Spur long and slender. Androecium and gynoecium fused into a column, stamens 1, stigmas 2. Inflorescence a 15–50-flowered spike. Flowers fragrant.
  • Leaves: Alternate, stalkless. Blade linear, blunt, parallel-veined, with entire margin, without spots.
  • Fruit: Capsule, seeds tiny, like dust.
  • Habitat: Meadows, pastures, dry meadows, fellside meadows, fens, stream banks. Calciphile.
  • Flowering time: June–August.
  • Endangerment: Ssp. conopsea is vulnerable and protected south of the province of Oulu, also on the Åland Islands.

Fragrant orchid looks very different in different parts of its habitat. Two subspecies grow in Finland: ssp. conopsea in the south and ssp. alpina in the north. Their taxonomic status has been a moot point for a long time already: on one hand fragrant orchid has been regarded as an independent species which remains small in the north due to the harsh conditions; on the other hand a DNA study has suggested that it is composed of two different varieties. Some people are of the opinion that fragrant orchid that grows in the south and sometimes east on rich swamps is yet another separate species.

There are differences in the ecology at least between the fragrant orchids. Ssp. conopsea favours traditional environments while ssp. alpina likes fields and meadows. Its flower smells like a carnation, the labellum is clearly 3-lobed and the nectar is down deep in the spur, only available to insects with a long proboscis – its main pollinators would appear to be night butterflies. Ssp. alpina can be found in fens and other dryer places too. Its flower smells like cloves, its labellum is possibly shallowly lobed and its spur is relatively short, but there is no information on pollinators. This could be explored by anyone who finds the plant in Lapland, and it would not take a long time because there is a lot of traffic around the plant.

School and field trip expeditions used to rate each species with a number between 1 and 10 to indicate how rare a species was and what its “value” would be, should it be exchanged. Fragrant orchid used to be rated 1, meaning that it was very common, in the same bracket as wild bilberry and pine trees. At the beginning of this century the species was still one of our more common orchids, but ssp. conopsea has become much rarer with the decrease in meadow and forest grazing. Nowadays it is pretty much confined to dryish sloping broad-leaved forests, and is to any extent common only on the Åland Islands and locally in eastern Finland. In the north ssp. alpina is quite common in wet bogs and damp meadows and along stream banks.

Other species from the same family

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