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Wild orchids in our gardens

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This article originally appeared on the Hortus website and can be read in French here.
La version originale de cet article se trouve sur le site web de Hortus ici.

Wild orchids are found in most parts of the world, and grow in great numbers all around the Mediterranean.

Their rosettes begin to appear in our gardens at the onset of winter. If we remember where the orchids have previously grown, and discover that they are emerging in new places, we can enjoy following their progress through the season and try to guess where they will appear next. They often choose to settle beside paths and passageways. Here they find stable ground, the right amount of sunlight and not much competition from other plants.

It helps to remember where they have appeared previously as they may inadvertently be trodden on or otherwise damaged when they next reappear. When seen from above wild orchids may seem small, but their delicate beauty is revealed once one kneels down – a boon for the keen photographer!

In our garden, the first to flower in February is Himantoglossum robertianum, strong and fleshy. It only made a single fleeting appearance however, in a particularly prolific year, after which it has declined to re-emerge.

Himantoglossum robertianum

The next to flower, from March to June, are Ophrys exalta subsp. marzuola, Ophrys arachniformis, Ophrys scolopax , Ophrys litigiousa, Ophrys lutea, Anacamptis pyramidalis, Cephalantera longifolia and Cephalantera rubra. Epipactis helleborine brings the season to a close.

Ophrys exalta subsp. marzuola

Ophrys arachniformis
Ophrys scolopax
Anacamptis pyramidalis
Cephalantera rubra
Ophrys lutea
Cephalantera longifolia
Epipactis helleborine

Our house is therefore surrounded by a small sample of the 75 species, or taxons, of orchids identified as growing in the Hérault. As soon as our orchids appear, we know that it is time to search for their cousins further afield.

So-called ‘botanical’ orchids are in fact native wild flowers. They spread thanks to the vagaries of the wind, of insects, birds and human activity. They settle in places which suit them best. They multiply when they feel comfortable and ‘forget’ to flower when the weather has been inclement.

They disappear completely if the right conditions such as soil, sunlight or humidity have not been met, or when there has been too much competition from other plants, or inadequate pollination. Being extremely sensitive, orchids are often killed by human activity. They are, however, resilient, sensitive, mobile and opportunistic, and will happily settle in the urban or rural wastelands much loved by Gilles Clément (cf : Le Tiers Paysage). Indeed, around us there is not much left of their original habitat.

Don’t try to domesticate them, as they won’t give in…..they are wild!

Limodorum abortivum emerging, like purple asparagus
Limodorum abortivum in flower

Text and photos : Hubert Nivière
Translation into English: Nanouk Pelen