John and Gerry's    Orchids of Britain and Europe
Home Back to Gymnadenia species Links

Gymnadenia conopsea

This species was first described by Brown from Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany in 1753 and its name means
"with the appearance of a fly". This species has for many years been familiar to botanists as the Fragrant Orchid, a name that refers to the scent of the flower which has variously been described as reminiscent of cloves, carnations and other perfumes. It appears that different populations of this species can produce scents of differing fragrances.

G. conopsea is a widespread and sometimes abundant orchid with a huge distribution that covers boreal and
temperate Eurasia, right through to China. In the south of its range (France and Spain) it becomes a montane species and is quite at home at 2500 metres in the European Alps, growing alongside more recognized Alpine species such as its close relative G. rhellicani. G. conopsea is one of five European members of the G. conopsea group and although they all share a family resemblance, there is a particular similarity between this species  G densiflora and G. borealis. A recent study however determined that there was little evidence of gene crossover and that despite previous belief, even in the limited number of species overlap areas, hybridization was rare. This is not the case however when the species comes into contact with some Dachtylorhiza taxons and intergenetic hybridization with D. praetermissa, D. purpurella and D. fucshii are regularly recorded.

G. conopsea is most familiar as a dry grassland plant on alkaline substrates whereas G. borealis is an acid lover and G. densiflora although similarly a calcicole,  prefers damp, wet or marshy conditions. The pictures are from Hampshire (England) and the mountains of the Ecrins National Park in France, all dating from the month of July.