A Mediterranean Odyssey Gianpiero Ferrari

A Mediterranean Odyssey Gianpiero Ferrari

Gianpiero is Italian by birth, and calls himself an orchid twitcher. He grows a lot of European terrestrials, and has visited sites across southern Europe from Spain in the west to Turkey in the east. This odyssey has taken over half a lifetime with co-ordinating holidays to fit in with flowering times of particular plants allowing for latitude and altitude. The part covered today is mainly Italy, starting at Monte Carlo moving to Abruzzo, Gargano peninsula, Sardinia, and Corsica.

Depending on the botanists, there are now over 700 species of Ophrys, which is too many to be realistic, but if they can be distinguished then they are there to be ‘collected’. (NB. Orchidwiz lists 112 species and 337 natural hybrids as well as 113 manmade hybrids).

Monte Carlo in May is more noted for fine sunny weather and Grand Prix, but once you get away from the waterfront and the Grimaldi palace and into the local hillsides you will find a lot of different species of Ophrys. splenda is common, as is philippei – a species that was once thought extinct. Whilst hunting for orchids it is also important to note the variety of other plant life here. There are aquilegias, crocus, hellebores, gentians and fritillarias on this dryish landscape.

North of Monte Carlo you move into the Alps and can see Orchis spitzelii with its plain leaves and purple flowers as well as the early spider orchid.

Abruzzo is a wild and beautiful upland area with wild bears and wolves. In the Valle di Rosa you can see Chamoix jumping around. It is quite different from the Alps. Orchis pallens is abundant with its yellow blooms, and in the Sasso valley there are millions of saffron crocuses. Cyp. calceolus grows here which is a rarity south of the Alps. The landscape is littered with deserted villages now starting to decay. These used to be the home of the sheep farmers now moved away. What they have left behind is meadows rich in flora as well as insects, and it has become a mecca for butterfly watchers. Orchis tridentata with its pink ball like cluster of flowers thrives here as does Orchis fusciflora – similar to our own UK early purple orchid. Hybrids between these and others have now produced a range of colours with pink and yellows to the fore. Cephalanthera thrive here and there are 4 different types of the lizard orchid as well as the birds nest orchid (named after the roots). Dact. sambucina is the most common orchid here – both the red and yellow forms (yellow is more common), and often it is difficult to cross meadows without stepping on them.

Moving east to the Gargano peninsula you can find over 70 species of orchid. Fields are filled with Asphodel – both white and yellow. Ophrys garganica and tenthredinifera are common as is biscutella (syn. argolica) and urteae (yellow). archipelagi (syn. x arachnitiformis) is a plant from Yugoslavia that has crossed the Adriatic Sea. apulica (syn. insectifera) is a large flowered species, and bertolonii is varied, but generally has a darker lip. Spiranthes romanzoffiana with its tall white spire of flowers is found here as well. Orchis quadripunctata is called the 4 spotted orchid, and O. (Syn. Neotinea) lactea is the milky orchid, and is pale white to pink. The burnt tip orchid can be found here as well as in Derbyshire.

The southern portion of Sardinia is a fairly barren place that supports a lot of Euphorbias and on the coast a lot of Flamingos as well as other birds both local and migrants. You also need to take care as wild boar roam freely. Ophrys incubacea (syn. sphegodes) – the black spider orchid is common. O. chestermanii (syn. fuciflora) is endemic to this island. O. morisii is unusual in reaching 2’ tall with up to 18 flowers. O. bombylifera is well named as the small bumblebee orchid. O. densiflora (syn. Neotinea maculata) is tiny reaching just 3” tall with plain flowers. Orchis longicruris (syn. italica) has long spurs within attractive purple and white clusters of flowers. Serapis lingua can be found around the road verges with its deep red flowers and a ‘tongue’. Dact. cordigera is a larger plant with heart shaped flowers. Orchis grandiflora (syn. Galearis rotundifolia) has attractive white flowers with a few purple spots. Anacamptis papilionacea is variable, but is generally pink to purple and is eye catching with large clumps with large flowers.

The final stop on the road trip is Sicily which despite its volcano has limestone areas that the Romans used for burials. There are a lot of gently sloping meadows with wildflowers and insects. In Pantolia you will find Ophrys discors (syn. apifera) – the late spider orchid with its pink petals. O. calliantha (syn. fuciflora) is also a pink spider form. O. oxyrrhynchos (syn. apifera) is quite different as it is white/green with a pink spur on the lip. O. incubacea is present and the yellow flowered O. sicula is common. O. panormitana is more easily spotted as it starts to flower in February! O. archimedea (syn. lutea) has tiny yellow flowers and only reaches 3-4” tall, so is easily missed, however, its benefit is that it is late flowering (the late spider orchid).

Orchis brancifortii is a small flowered pink flower. O. fusca (syn. purpurea) has around 70 forms which is far too many, but varies from white to purple. O. militaris is mainly white but has a long purple tongue. Dact. markusii (syn. romana) is varied from white to red and yellow. It has short flower spikes, and is endemic within the local sweet chestnut forests which are a mass of cyclamen in April.

This isn’t an inexhaustive list of plants, and many of the other European orchids can be found, especially in the genus of Orchis – such as the Man (O. anthropophora), Naked Man and monkey (O. simia) orchids.

Only a couple of questions were asked at the end, and Gianpiero was rewarded with a hearty round of applause.