John and Gerry's    Orchids of Britain and Europe
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Gymnadenia borealis

Gymnadenia borealis was first described as a variety of G. conopsea from Cumberland, England by Druce in 1918 but subsequently reclassified as a full species in 1997 by Bateman, Pridgeon and Chase. Its name refers to the boreal zones of Europe and is commonly known as the Heath Fragrant Orchid.

The range of borealis is not known with any certainty and although it seems likely that the plant exists in suitable habitats throughout temperate Europe, it has only been formally recorded from the United Kingdom. Its preferred haunts are damp meadows and fens on acidic to neutral substrates and this choice of growing conditions is one of the key differentiators between it and the other two UK representatives of the G. conopsea group, Gymnadenia conopsea itself and G. densiflora, which are primarily orchids of alkaline soils. Distinguishing the three varieties would be difficult but for the differences in habitat and a study of UK Gymnadenia populations in 2007 found that even where soil conditions allowed an overlap of range, gene sharing was uncommon and hybridization nowhere near as frequent as was originally believed.

G. borealis is a decidedly spindly plant with upward arching, narrow, lanceolate leaves that clasp the stem. The flower spike is small, atop a narrow, often kinked stem with fewer individual flowers than either of the other two species.

In Britain it is mainly found in the north of England and Scotland, though healthy populations may also be found further south and notably in the New Forest and on the lowland heaths of Dorset. The pictures are from Hampshire and Cumbria, England, dating from the beginning of July.