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ACT Campus Flora: Wild Orchids

A collection of rare plants on campus grounds.

Wild orchids.

The unique geophysical location of Greece (bordering with the Ionian and the Mediterranean Sea) is responsible for its diverse flora, which includes some of the most admired plants of the world. Greek flora consists of more than 6,000 species and sub-species. And although geographically the country of Greece comprises only 6% of the Mediterranean, it is home to a remarkable 1/4 of its flora. The Orchidaceae, commonly known as the orchid family, is probably one of the largest families of flowering plants with unique, colorful and fragrant blooms. Wild orchids are those that grow and have evolved naturally in a particular area or habitat without human intervention. In Greece, there are currently approximately 200 species, strictly protected under Greek law(Government Decree 67/1981: "Protection of Autochthonous and Wild Flora" / Law 3165/2003: "Conservation and Protection of the Plant Genetic Resources"). 

The campus of the American College of Thessaloniki (ACT), spreading over 60 acres on a hillside overlooking the city, is home to several species of wild orchids: Ophrys, Anacamptis, Neotineas, Serapias and Spiranthes. 

The scientific name of Ophrys comes from the Greek word for "eyebrow" (οφρύς), which refers to the furry edges of several species. Ophrys orchids are symbiotic species. This means that they can only obtain sufficient nutrients through their symbiotic relationship with a fungus in the soil. They are very sensitive to fertilizers or fungicides since these can harm their symbiotic fungus.  Ophrys are also referred to as the "Bee orchids" due to the flower's resemblance to bees. This is the only species, in which the attraction of insect pollinators is accomplished through the deception of male insects: They secrete special pheromones and evolve their flowers in such a way that they resemble female insects to attract them. In this way, the transfer of pollen from one plant to another is ensured and pollination and survival of the species achieved.

The Bissell Library collection includes the ultimate guide to Greek Orchids: "Atlas of the Greek Orchids".   

Ophrys apifera Huds.

Description: Ophrys apifera Huds., is a species native to Europe, that grows up to a height of 20cms and is characterized by several small flowers. Each flower has three large, pink or whitish, petal-like outer sepals, a large lip that greatly resembles a bee (thus its characteristic name of "bee orchid"), and two inner hairy lobes that look like antennae. The middle lobe is pointed and bent backwards. The Latin name apifera means "bee-bearing" and refers to the bee-shaped lip of the orchid aiming at attracting male bees in order to achieve pollination. The unique characteristic of this ophrys is that the plant is also self-pollinating through its large pollinia falling forward and down to rest on the stigmatic cavity. Self-polination is the reason why quite often the species displays plants with monstrous flower forms. 

Habitat: Usually on limestone or calcareous sand. 

Distribution: Central and Eastern Europe. More common in the Mediterranean region. 

Flowering Time: Early May.

Photo credit: S. Chatzivasileiou

Ophrys oestrifera ssp. oestrifera

Description: Ophrys oestrifera is a plant growing up to 50cm in height. The flower displays three sepals, two of which point out to the side, whereas the third one is shorter, and bent forward.The sepals are violet or white, with a characteristic green stripe. The three lobed lip of the flower is dark brown with a characteristic "waistcoat" formation. The plant displays two purple horns and  two hairy arms. 

Habitat: Rocky habitats with alkaline substrates.

Distribution: Widespread across southern Europe and the Mediterranean region, from Spain to the Crimea, Turkey and North Africa.

Flowering time: Early May.

Photo credit:  S. Chatzivasileiou

Ophrys reinholdii

Description: Ophrys reinholdii, is one of the most impressive orchids belonging to the ophrys genus. It is a tall orchid growing up to 60cms and bearing up to 10 flowers per spike. The species with displays a very dark labellum with two contrasting whitish stripes which may sometimes be connected. The plant favors acidic soil and although it may be found in sunny spots, it shows a preference for woodland clearings.

Habitat: Acidic spots in light shade of pine and oak woods or scrub, or in full sun in grasslands, on roadsides etc.

Distribution: Southeastern Europe to Asia, including Greece, Turkey Bulgaria and Cyprus. 

Flowering Time: Mid May

Photo credit: S. Chatzivasileiou

Anacamptis coriophora (orchis fragrans)

Description: Anacamptis coriophora subsp. fragrans (Orchis fragrans) is a small to medium-sized, orchid 20-40 cm tall, that has a compact spike of numerous small, scented flowers. Its flowers vary in color from greenish pink to a dark red, and display a characteristic spotted lip. This orchid is perennial and bulbous. Anacamptis coriophora subsp. fragrans can be distinguished from the Anacamptis coriophora by its finer stem with fewer leaves and larger, paler flowers, in which the central lobe of the labellum is noticeably longer than the others. In addition, this species has strongly vanilla-scented flowers that produce nectar, which attracts many species of insect pollinators.

Habitat: Common in dry, sunny areas of phrygana, rocky valleys and grassy places near the coast and areas with short vegetation on sand dunes, even where exposed to occasional flooding by the sea. 

Distribution: Distributed widely in the Mediterranean and Greece, in lowlands and islands. 

Flowering time: Late May into June.

Photo credit: S. Chatzivasileiou

Serapias vomeracea

Description: Serapias vomeracea named after the shape of the flower lip (which resembles a ploughshare). It is a plant that may reach 60cm in height and produce up to 12 yellow orange to deep red flowers which are densely haired in their center.

Habitat: Open woodland on limestone and mildly acidic substrates. 

Distribution: Widespread throughout Europe, it can also be found in many Atlantic and Mediterranean countries.

Flowering time: Early May

Photo credit: S. Chatzivasileiou

Ophrys ferrum - equinum ssp. ferrum - equinum

Description: Ophrys ferrum - equinum is a compact plant 10-35 cm tall. It is a member of the large Ophrys mammosa group and one of the more attractive and distinctive members of the family. It owes its name to the characteristic shape of a silver horseshoe on the brown petal. The species is recognized by the spread out lip with grey-violet marginal hair in the shoulders and a blue-gray speculum that does not reach the base of the lip. 

Habitat: Frequent on calcareous, dry to moist soil in full sunlight to light shade, from sea level to 1000m altitude. Typical habitats include roadside slopes, stony grassland, phrygana, open pine woods and pesticide-free olive groves.

Distribution: Native to Albania, Greece, and Turkey, including Crete and other islands of the Aegean.

Flowering time: From mid-March to mid-May. 

Photo Credit: O. Tzimoulis

Ophrys sphegodes ssp. epirotica

Description: Ophrys epirotica shares characteristics with several other species, thus making it extremely difficult to identify. There are however a few features, that characterise the species: a) Its late flowering period, which almost never begins before the beginning of May and b) The lip can be obscurely three lobed but is usually entire and heart shaped. It has a simple pattern of two metallic blue vertical stripes that are sometimes centrally linked into an H formation. 

Habitat: Calcareous soils in low altitude. 

Distribution: Restricted to Western Greece. 

Flowering time: Mid May.

Photo credit: S. Chatzivasileiou

Anacamptis.

Anacamptis: There are twenty species in this genus with euro-Mediterranean distribution, from Morocco to Iran and the Caucasus, and as North as Norway. Flower stems range from 10cm to 1m high, with medium-sized, numerous flowers. A spur is always present on the labellum. The perianth segments spread, or form a hood. Like ophrys, all anacamptis orchids are insect pollinating.

Anacamptis morio ssp. caucasica

Description: Anacamptis morio, the green-winged orchid or green-veined orchid (synonym: Orchis morio) is a native orchid of western Eurasia, ranging from Europe to Iran. The flowers are mainly purple but ranging from white, through pink, to deep purple. Approximately 5 to 25 helmet-shaped flowers grow in a loose, linear bunch at the top of the single stalk. The name "morio" is derived from the Greek word "moros" meaning "fool". This refers to the green veins on the lateral sepals extending laterally like "wings", giving the orchid its name. The broad, three-lobed, lower petal is pale in the center with dark spots. The flowers do not produce nectar but attract pollinators with their visual appearance. This deception facilitates the mixing of pollen between different individual plants and promotes genetic diversity in the species. 

Habitat: It grows in grassy unfertilized meadows, especially on limestone-rich soil, reaching a height of 40 cm.

Flowering time: Mid April to May.

Photo credit: S. Chatzivasileiou

Neotinea.

Neotinea orchids are native to Central and Southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.  This is a newly recognized genus, which includes six species (formerly belonging to the Orchis species). The species is named neo (=new) plus tinea after botanist Vicenzo Tineo. 

Neotinea tridentata

Description: Neotinea tridentata is an orchid species found in southern Europe. Its name means "three-toothed" and refers to the three-lobed labellum of the flower. The sepals and petals converge, forming a distinctive hood. 

Habitat: This orchid favors open grassland, woodland and phrygana.

Distribution: Southern and central Europe, northwestern Africa – from Spain to Turkey and Lebanon, northward to Germany, Czechia, Crimea and Caucasus.

Flowering time: March to June.

Photo credit: S. Chatzivasileiou

Spiranthes spiralis

Description: Spiranthes spiralis, commonly known as autumn lady's-tresses is a perennial orchid that grows in Europe, North Africa and Asia. It is a delicate orchid flowering in Autumn, with white blooms growing in a near-perfect spiral (hence its name from the Greek "speira" = spiral, and "anthos" = flower. The species is hermaphrodite  (has both male and female organs), fragrant and is mainly pollinated by Bees.

Habitat: Short grasslands and moist meadows. 

Distribution: Europe,  N. Africa and W. Asia.

Flowering Time: Mid October. 

Photo credit: S. Chatzivasileiou 

Ophrys ssp. hebes (Kalopissis)

Description: Ophrys sphegodes ssp. hebes, named after Hebe Kougeas, (daughter of a distinguished academic) is characterized by its small flower size, its trilobate lip and the design complexity of its speculum, when compared to the generally more straightforward "H" pattern of the other taxons. Its long, wide and undulated petals are also characteristic. Its pseudo-eyes are evident and convergent to the interior of the stigmatic cavity.  Often confused with O. zeusii and O. cephalonica.

Habitat: Semi-shaded to shaded positions, limestone soils, oak forest exposed to the north and in coniferous forests of Abies cephanolica in the Peloponnese.

Distribution: It is common in the mountains of the Peloponnese but also found in central and northern Zagoria reion, even in more eastern ranges like Olympus mountain.

Flowering time:  From mid - March to mid - April.

Photo Credit: S. Chatzivasileiou

Ophrys sphegodes ssp. mammosa

Description: Ophrys sphegodes subsp. mammosa is a robust plant growing up to 70cm in height. The sepals and petals are olive green marked with brownish-red but the two lateral sepals are distinctly bi-colored, the upper part being green and the lower a dark red. The lip is usually a dark brownish-red and occasionally has a yellow margin. The shiny speculum can be H-shaped, or consist of two vertical stripes which are parallel to each other. Its name refers to the prominent basal swellings, literally meaning "full breasted". One of the characteristics of the species is  are its black shiny pseudo-eyes.

Habitat: Frequent on alkaline soils in full sun to mid-shade. Open woodland, short-sward grassland and scrub are all suitable habitats.

Distribution: This orchid is distributed in central and eastern Europe. Its range includes the Balkans, Greece, Turkey and Cyprus.

Flowering time: From mid-March to the beginning of May. 

Photo credit: O. Tzimoulis

Anacamptis pyramidalis

Description: Anacamptis pyramidalis is a tall (up to 25cm long) orchid, with a compact, almost pyramidal (as the name "pyramidalis" suggests), spike of deep pink, purple or occasionally white flowers. This perennial and tuberous plant can be found from sea level to 2,000m altitude. It is named after the Greek word "Anacampto" which means "bent back" and refers to the way in which the pollen is held within the flower. Flowers have a pronounced aroma of vanilla in order to attract pollinating butterflies.

Habitat: Well-drained calcareous soils. Most often associated with short grasslands. It can also be found in longer grass and scrubby areas such as roadside verges.

Flowering time: Early May. 

Photo credit: S. Chatzivasileiou

Serapias.

Serapias is an essentially Mediterranean genus of 19 recognized species. The flowers of all species have a helmet-like structure formed by the union of two sepals and one petal; most are surrounded by a large bract. The long triangular flower lip resembles a tongue and is sometimes hairy. 

Serapias bergonii

Description: Serapias bergonii is a short perennial orchid with two ovoidal underground tubers, producing up to 12 flowers. It is sometimes referred to as the Tongue Orchid because of its distinguishing feature of a long hairy lip. The leaves form around the base of the stem and are erect, unspotted, narrow and pointed. There are further bract-like leaves along the stem. The color of the flowers is variable but they are often orange-to dark red or purple.

Habitat: Found in short, poor grassland, phrygana, olive groves, damp meadows, and open woodland. It prefers dry to damp, alkaline to slightly acidic substrates. It grows in full sunlight to mid-shade. 

Flowering time: from March to June.

Photo Credit: O. Tzimoulis

Gallery.

Ophrys sphegodes spp. hebes

Ophrys ferrum-equinum ssp. ferrum-equinum.

Ophrys oestrifera ssp. oestrifera

Anacamptis morio ssp. caucasica.

Ophrys mammosa

Ophrys ferrum-equinum ssp. ferrum-equinum.

Anacamptis pyramidalis.

Ophrys apifera

Ophrys apifera

ophrys apifera flavescens

Anacamptis morio ssp. caucasica.

Ophrys mammosa.

Neotinea tridentata.

Anacamptis coriophora (orchis fragrans).

Ophrys mammosa.

Ophrys oestrifera ssp. oestrifera

Anacamptis pyramidalis & the Bissell Library

Ophrys ferrum-equinum.

Anacamptis morio.

Ophrys mammosa.

Ophrys mammosa.

Ophrys mammosa

Anacamptis coriophora (orchis fragrans).

Serapias bergonii

Ophrys hebes.

Serapias vomeracea

Anacamptis pyramidalis & the Bissell Library

Ophrys ferrum-equinum

Ophrys oestrifera ssp. oestrifera

Serapias vomeracea

Serapias bergonii

Neotinea tridentata

Anacamptis coriophora (orchis fragrans)

Anacamptis morio in seed.

Anacamptis morio

Bibliography.

Bibliography:

Antonopoulos, Z. "The Bee Orchids of Greece: the Genus Ophrys" Mediterraneo Editions, 2009. 

Delforge, P. "Orchids of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East". Portland, Oregon: Timber Press. 2005

Papiomitoglou, V. "Wildflowers of Greece" Mediterraneo Editions, 2006. 

Petrou, N. Giannakoulias, M. "Orchids of Greece" Mediterraneo Editions, 2011.

Tsiftsis, S, Antonopoulos Z. "Atlas of the Greek Orchids", Crete: Mediterraneo Editions, 2017. 

 

Note: While every effort has been made to ensure the information presented in this guide is accurate and up-to-date, if you find any errors, or have any comments / suggestions, feel free to send them to chatziva[at]act.edu.

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