Short Spurred Fragrant Orchid - Gymnadenia odoratissima

Scientific Name: Gymnadenia odoratissima.

English Name: Short Spurred Fragrant Orchid.

French Name: Orchis très odorant (= very fragrant orchid) or Orchis odorant.

5 Key Characters:
  • lateral sepals horizontal and stick straight out sideways.
  • relatively short thick eperon (spur at the back of the flower), about as long as the ovary (the section connected to the stem).
  • very sweetly and strongly perfumed.
  • pink flowers with the central lobe of the labellum (bottom petal) somewhat longer than the side lobes.
  • rather fine and delicate for a Gymnadenia spp.
Lookalikes: G. pyrenaica and Fragrant Orchid G. conopsea. The latter species has a much longer spur at the back of the flower, almost equal labellum lobes and slightly drooping lateral sepals. It is much more common and less strongly scented, usually bigger and more robust and more strongly coloured. The Pyrennaean Fragrant Orchid is much rarer than either of the other two and has intermediate characters. They are all capable of hybridising with one another and producing intermediate looking plants too. Added to that, G. odoratissima varies considerably depending on where it is growing, i.e. it has different ecotypes. Plants on poor dry soil tend to be fine and pale (sometimes even white or cream); those on damp and/or alkaline soil tend to be robust and strong purply red pinks, closely resembling G. conopsea in overall appearance and labellum form.

Habitat: Damp or dry grassland, boggy alkaline outcrops, seepages, chalk grassland or grassland on degraded limestone, in full sun or light shade. The species will grow in dry or waterlogged soil, with a preference for alkaline, but can be found in lightly acid soil too.

Flowering Period: May-June-July-August.

Status: For all the wide range of conditions it favours it is a rare species. Protected and very rare in this area. It mostly occurs in the Touraine du Sud on dry limestone ridges, and can be seen within 5km of Preuilly-sur-Claise (although the site is not accessible to the public). There are 3 sites in the Brenne where it occurs, favouring neutral to alkaline marsh or Upright Brome Bromus erectus grassland.

References and Further Reading:
Les Echos de l'Association de Botanique et de Mycologie de Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine Année 2011 has a couple of paragraphs on G. odoratissima and G. conopsea at La Forge and a few sentences about the site itself. This is one of the few sites where it is possible to compare the two species directly. Note that permission is required from the landowner to enter the site at La Forge.

Photographed by Loire Valley Nature:
All photographs will enlarge if you click on them. Row 1 Left on a dry limestone spur, La Forge, in the company of another, earlier flowering orchid (Man Orchid Orchis anthropophora), May. Centre showing the dry grassland with juniper scrub habitat, G. odoratissima visible in the middle of the picture, La Forge, May. Right a clump at La Forge, May. Row 2 Left checking out the scent, La Forge, May. Centre G. odoratissima visited by the Conopid fly Thecophora atra, La Forge, May. Centre right showing dry calcareous grassland habitat, La Forge, May. Right close up of an individual flower showing the very horizontal lateral sepals sticking straight out sideways. Row 3 Left close up of an individual flower showing the relatively short thick spur curving down from the back.

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