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Notions on European orchids.


Orchids are "young" plants and given the rarity of fossil traces, estimating an age of appearance is not easy. We therefore place  their emergence between 20 and 100 million years ago, whereas the first flowering plants would be at least 150 million years old.



They have a single stem without branches, straight, and a multiple inflorescence. The stems are smooth or downy and bear the leaves.

The leaves  are ribbed lengthwise and elongated. (except Goodyera repens which has more complex leaves). All starting from the base to form a rosette or distributed along the stem, they are sometimes reduced to their simplest and enveloping expression. 

The roots are diverse: tubers or rhizomes.  In France and Europe, orchids are terrestrial, the roots or bulbs remain underground, the leaves are sometimes permanent  or semi-permanent. Stems and flowers only appear for a short flowering period. 

The flowers have bilateral symmetry like a face (and not radial like eg daisy, rose). There are always 3 sepals (back) and 3 petals (in front) which constitute the perianth but their presentation is complex and offers an astonishing diversity: each species has its own floral organization when it is not each individual itself which varies on certain criteria. 

Of the 3 petals, the two lateral ones are identical but the middle one is called the labellum and generally comes forward (a bit like a tongue). Often very colorful and structured, it participates indirectly in the pollination of the flower by serving as a "landing strip" for insects.

Flower color is usually red, purple, pink or white. But we will find some species with yellow flowers. Some flowers can be hypochromic (partial or almost total loss of pigmentation) and on the contrary hyperchromic with an unusual reinforcement of the violet dyes.


Orchids in Europe are terrestrial and have a  root system in the ground unlike tropical orchids, a large part of which are epiphytes (they have aerial roots and live on branches or trunks trees) or lithophytes (live on the surface of rocks). A majority of species of orchids are fond of  limestone and often poor soils (calcareous lawns, wasteland, maquis, short grasslands maintained by livestock or roadsides). Some will be found in humid and acidic terrain (partially flooded or seeping meadows, edge of reedbeds or marshes) or in the shade in the forest. land that is too rich or amended with fertilizers but a few years of fallow and orchids may appear.


Orchids are sexual and except  for rare exceptions, need pollinating insects for their reproduction. These insects are sometimes of a single species given their particular morphology or of multiple species to guarantee a greater chance of being pollinated. The pollens of the orchids are grouped together in small masses which stick to the forehead of the insects then are redeposited  on the female organs of another flower. Very few orchids are nectariferous (which in principle attracts insects), so it is the colours, shapes and pheromones  which will play their attraction in this case.



Variability in species:

  •  la plant sizes vary  enormously and an orchid of the same species can measure less than 10 cm or 50 cm.

  • the number of flowers is not constant: the Slipper of Venus normally bears one flower, sometimes two but for another species, it can be 10 or 50.

  • the shape of the flowers is also subject to great variability, but not their size, which is rather constant.

  • the color of the flowers for the same species is normally constant but the tonality can be more or less dark. For the Ophrys, it is the designs of the labellum that will vary enormously. One species (Dactylorhiza sambucina) has feet with  mauve or yellow flowers, the 2 colors generally cohabiting. 


How many orchids in France?

The different genera with the most common species are listed below.

In France, there are 27 genera for about 160 species.

13 genera are represented by only 1 species, often rare to very rare. 10 genera are represented by 3 to 50 species.

The validity of certain species is debated, some of them would only be subspecies, even regional varieties or geographic isolates with staggered flowering. In principle, the definition of a species is due to its genetic isolation and its natural non-hybridization with others. At the European level, numbers of species of the same genus hybridize spontaneously and we even find different hybridized genera, we can therefore legitimately wonder about this propensity to name an orchid when morphological characteristics differ or a flowering is shifted in time. This site not seeking to fuel a controversy on a subject that is nevertheless essential, I will almost scrupulously use the most up-to-date nomenclature possible so as not to lose the research and determination of species._cc781905-5cde- 3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_


  • Genus Orchis (Orchis militaris, Orchis purpurea, Orchis simia, Orchis anthropophora, Orchis mascula). About 13 species in France.

  • Genus Ophrys (Ophrys apifera, Ophrys araneola, Ophrys aranifera, Ophrys fuciflora, Ophrys insectifera, Ophrys scolopax). Around 50 species in France. Common to very rare, many species may only be regional variations.

  • Genus Dactylorhiza (Dactylorhiza fuchsii, Dactylorhiza maculata, Dactylorhiza incarnata, Dactylorhiza sambucina). Around 20 species in France. Common to rare.

  • Genus Epipactis (Epipactis atrorubens, Epipactis helleborine, Epipactis muelleri). 17 species from common to rare and regional.

  • Genus Anacamptis (Anacamptis pyramidalis, Anacamptis morio). About 10 species in France. Common in almost all regions.

  • Genus Serapias (Serapias lingua, Serapias vomeracea). About 8 more or less rare and localized species.

  • Genus Cephalanthera (Cephalanthera damasonium, Cephalanthera longifolia, Cephalanthera rubra). 3 rather common but sometimes regional species.

  • Genus Gymnadenia (Gymnadenia conopsea, Gymnadenia rhellicani). 8 species in France more or less rare and localized.

  • Genus Platanthera (Plantanthera bifolia, Plantanthera chlorantha). 3 species in France. Common and widespread for the species listed.

  • Genus Neotinea (Neotinea maculata, Neotinea ustulata, Neotinea tridentata, Neotinea lactae). Approx 6 more or less rare or located species.

  • Genus Himantoglossum (Himantoglossum hircinum, Himantoglossum robertanium). 2 common species including one localized.

  • Genus Listera (Listera ovata, Listera cordata). 2 species including 1 common and 1 regional.

  • Genus Spiranthes (Spiranthes spiralis). 2 rare but geographically widespread species.

  • Genus Limodorum (Limodorum abortivum). 2 species including 1 common and 1 regional.

  • Genus Cypripedium (Cypripedium calceolus = Slipper of Venus). 1 only species in France. Rare and localized.

  • Genus Goodyera (Goodyera repens). 1 common species.

  • Genus Neottia (Neottia nidus-avis). 1 common species.

  • Genus Coeloglossum (Coeloglossum viride). 1 only species in France. More or less rare and localized.

  • Genus Herminium (Herminium monorchis). 1 only species in France. Rare and localized.

  • Genus Epipogium (Epipogium aphyllum). 1 rare species.

  • Genus Liparis (Liparis loeselii). 1 rare species.

  • Genus Corallorhiza (Corallorhiza trifida). 1 rare species.

  • Genus Hammarbya (Hammarbya paludosa). 1 rare species.

  • Genus Gennaria (Genaria diphylla). 1  only species in France. Extremely rare (Corsica)

  • Genus Chamorchis (Chamorchis alpina). 1 only species in France. Rare and localized.

  • Genus Traunsteinera (Traunsteinera globosa). 1 only species in France. Rare and localized.

  • Genus Pseudorchis (Pseudorchis albida). 1 only species in France. Uncommon and moderately widespread.


And in Europe?  (under construction, please wait :-) )

When and where to observe orchids? (under construction, please wait :-))

Brief description of an Ophrys in order to become familiar with the descriptive elements.

Ophrys sphegodes 69-2-2.jpg
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