9. Orchis simia: ‘Too much Monkey business’.

Habitat: above Liota/Lygeri and below Andissa.

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Habitat above Liota and Gavathas. © JvL 19-04-2010 #194

Orchis simia, Lamarck 1779.
Orchis militaris group; on Lesvos Orchis anthropophora (syn: Aceras anthropophora) Orchis italica, maybe Orchis purpurea and Orchis simia.

Towards the middle of April it becomes really busy and stressful in the Orchid Paradise. You want to and you have to go to all parts and habitats of the island at the same moment and that is impossible. It gets this busy because half of all orchids on Lesvos begin to flower at the same time. And for that reason you go first to the habitats where you know for sure there are sufficient orchids around to photograph. But you have to search also for new locations and habitats because you want to find new or different species as well. So every now and then you turn your car into an unknown forest or mountain track. Or you park your car, take your camera gear and start walking. Exciting! Sometimes you are lucky and sometimes you walk or drive around for hours without seeing one single Orchid. And then you regret not going to an already known orchid habitat. But why this introduction?

21 apr 12 146

Orchis simia, Andissa. © JvL 21-04-2012 #146

HUNTING: Because 3 years ago, for the above mentioned reason, I took a side track off the route along the coast between Lapsarna (completely at the end of the north-west part of Lesvos) and Liota/Lygeri (a hamlet which has a great restaurant around a hollow tree) and after half an hour nerve-racking 4×4 driving, including crossing a very small bridge by the narrowest margin and driving along a completely overgrown track where the grass was so high you couldn’t even see where you were going, I reached the point of no return. This means that at a certain moment I decided that this track was getting nowhere and therefore I wanted to turn around. But turning a big car on a track of 2 meters wide actually is not something you want to do. So I stepped out and walked further to find a spot or sidetrack were I could turn. I noticed that I was separated by a steep ravine from the calcareous hill where I actually wanted to go. This hill, on the road to Gavathas, is disappearing very fast because of the cement industry. This big hill, with the name ‘Grigorélli’ (that meant something like ‘steep’ or ‘fast’ but nowadays it probably means ‘fast disappearing’, is being completely excavated. This cement industry is as a matter of fact ‘recycling’ a lot of the limestone hills (the favourite habitat of most orchids) of Lesvos at a record speed. Anyway.

8 apr 11 272

Orchis simia, above Liota © JvL 8-04-2011 #272

HABITAT: Walking along this path, with a beautiful view over Liota, Gavathas and the sea, I saw in front of me a few big pink-purplish orchid-like flowers standing at the side of the road, Orchis italica, I thought on first sight, the naked-man Orchid? No, when I came closer they happened to be Orchis simia, the Monkey Orchid, an intriguing species that I hadn’t found and photographed yet. This illustrious orchid is difficult to find on Lesvos and maybe it is getting rare on the island. The preceding years I couldn’t find them, but maybe I was at the wrong times and the wrong places because last week I found tens of them on a side path from the road between Andissa and Lapsarna…But back to my Liota path. I continued to walk and found a very steep path where I could turn (20 times to and fro, sometimes hanging backwards). But before I did that I walked to the end of this path and I found tens of… (To be continued next week).

19 apr 10 113

Orchis simia, above Liota. © JvL 19-04-10 #113

RESEARCH: About the name: – almost all orchidologists agreed on Orchis simia (Lamarck 1779). Then in 1843 a certain Mr. Lindley was eager to put his name behind this orchid so he called it Orchis macra Lindley. And then there were the gentleman Bonnier & Layens who thought in 1894 that it also could be Orchis militaris subsp. simia (Lamarck) Bonnier & Layens; therefore they could put their names in orchid history. A very popular occupation, this copy, cut, rename & paste activity among orchidologists, apparently as well in the old days.

SUNDERMANN already reported in 1980 that even though this southerly species has a wide distribution it was nevertheless quite scarce on the European continent.
In ‘Die Orchideen der Türkei’ on the other hand, KREUTZ (1998) reported that Orchis simia is not a rare species at all in Turkey and that it flowered in almost the whole country (except in the interior Anatolian region). But I am wondering if that might be still the case, because of the digging out of the bulbs by salepi dealers. I don’t think that digging out is the problem in Rhodes and Karpathos, but on both islands Orchis simia is also a very rare species. (KREUTZ, ‘The Orchids of Rhodos and Karpathos’, 2002).
The same is apparently true for Chios (TAYLOR 2012) because Taylor, Saliaris & Delforge didn’t find Orchis simia on Chios, Inouses or Psara. Cyprus (KREUTZ 2004): ‘Orchis simia is rare on Cyprus and its numbers are also declining due to excessive grazing, the species can therefore be categorized as threatened.’ It is as if I hear myself talking about Lesvos…
On Crete Orchis simia occurs locally in large populations (KRETZSCHMAR & Eccarius 2004), but ‘it is a conspicuously squat plant on Karpathos, and rare on Rhodes.’ DELFORGE (2005) noticed that the Orchis simia distribution is Mediterranean-Atlantic. Growing from the north to the south of England and Holland, east to Iran and Turkmenistan. But: ‘rather scattered and rare.’
Holland? Finally I can use ‘De orchideeën van Nederland’, (in English: ‘The Orchids of Holland’), KREUTZ & DEKKER, published in 2000. But (translation JvL): ‘The Monkey Orchid occurs nowadays only in the South of Limburg (the most southerly province of Holland, JvL). Besides the south of Limburg it was only found on one occasion in 1905 in the dunes near Scheveningen. It concerned only one plant and it appeared for only one year.’ Orchis simia doesn’t seem to like periods or even days and nights of frost…BAUMANN H./KÜNKELE S./LORENZ R. (2006), ah, I forget to mention them in my research introduction: they go for the name Orchis simia subsp. simia, and let me guess, B. Baumann & H. Baumann? No! No author and date at all!

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Orchis simia, Andissa. © JvL 21-04-2012 #157

BOTTOM-LINE: KARATZÁ (2008) has 4 habitats for Orchis simia on Lesvos: Around Loutrá, Pigí, Ag. Pareskeví and Ándissa. Well, a few kilometers down from this last habitat, on the side track off the road to Lapsarna, I found this year 18 Orchis simia plants. And please help me out here Karatzá: for the last 5 years I have gone every year to Pigí to photograph all these beautiful, special orchids you mentioned for this habitat in your book, but I never found one… Where did I go wrong?

Jan van Lent, Lesvos, 28-4-2012.

Chuck Berry (1972): ‘To much monkey business’:



8. ‘Blue eyes crying in the rain’. Ophrys mammosa.

Habitat Eftalou.

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Ophrys mammosa in the rain, Eftalou. © JvL 4-04-2012 #036

Ophrys mammosa Desfontaines 1807.
The Ophrys mammosa group: 4 – 5 species on Lesvos:
O. ferrum-equinum, O. labiosa, O. hystera, O. mammosa, maybe O. spruneri.

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Ophrys mammosa, Eftalou. © JvL 4-04-2012 #044

HABITAT: It has been raining for two days now in Eftalou and it is the middle of April. Really I should do Ophrys mammosa because they are already flowering for 2-3 weeks everywhere in the olive groves and fields above our house and they are already beginning to wither. And they are also moving around, they are ‘on foot*’ so to say. One year at the left side of a goat path under an olive tree, the next year on the right side of the same track inside a big white Asphodel, one year under my chair in our olive grove and this year in front of our wood pile.

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Red Ophrys mammosa or red Ophrys alasiatica? Eftalou. © JvL 24-03-2010 #063

But actually I waited so long because I hoped that the ‘red one’ would appear: Ophrys alasiatica (or maybe a red Ophrys pseudomammosa from Turkey or a red Ophrys morio from Cyprus, the seeds blown in by the southeast winds from last winter). But I don’t think it will appear, because on the spot where I saw and photographed this plant two years ago, on the 24th and 26th of March, there is nothing more to see than the ‘going’ Ophrys sicula and the rosettes of the ‘coming’ Ophrys sancta.
And maybe the late mammosa ones like Ophrys hystera and Ophrys aesculapii var. planimaculata still can appear. They were flowering in Eftalou for several years but the last two years they didn’t come back. Okay, Ophrys collina came back and I found a Himantoglossum robertianum in Eftalou (see Blog 7) so I can’t complain this year; until now only Ophrys umbilicata didn’t return to his spot in Eftalou.

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Ophrys mammosa, Eftalou. © JvL 4-04-2012 #054

But let’s go first back to ‘the blue eyes’ Ophrys mammosa. Blue eyes because that is one of the distinct features of this Ophrys, or so I thought until today. But now I’m not so sure anymore; I see more black than blue eyed Breasted Ophrys in my books, so maybe this is a distinct feature of the Lesvos mammosa? (Ophrys aesculapii has green ones, as has Ophrys herae; Ophrys alasiatica blackish, surrounded by white shiny pseudo-eyes, Ophrys hystera has white to bluish pseudo-eyes with a greyish central spot). The other speciality of Ophrys mammosa (hence the name) are the big ‘breasts’ of course, the forwards pointing basal swellings of the lip. Another feature? The bicoloured lateral sepals; green on the upper part, reddish purple on the lower part. Ophrys spruneri on the other hand has completely rose-coloured petals and sepals.

RESEARCH: In 1980 SUNDERMANN described Ophrys sphegodes with 14 subspecies (and 2 variations) for Europe, so actually this was already the Sphegodes group. One of the subspecies was Ophrys sphegodes ssp. mammosa. Later on this became the sphegodes/mammosa group because mammosa became a more and more dominant species within the group.
Recently DELFORGE (Europe e.a 2005) rearranged sphegodes/mammosa into a small mammosa group (14 species) and a big sphegodes group (40 species) for Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. ANTONOPOULOS (Greece, 2009) did the same thing but he has a big mammosa group (15 species) and a small sphegodes group (10 species) for Greece. Also KRETZSCHMAR (2004, Crete, Karpathos and Rhodes) describes a sphegodes/ mammosa group but with only O.mammosa in the red/green group, the others (O.herae, O.sphegodes plus ssp. cretensis and ssp. gortynia) are in the green Sphegodes group.
TAYLOR (Chios 2012) found only Ophrys mammosa on Chios, no O. spruneri or sphegodes. And none of those 3 species were around on Inouses or Psara.
BKL (2006) exploit the name Ophrys mammosa ssp. mammosa and they have another 6 subspecies to offer, but none of them flowers on Lesvos. PEDERSEN/FAURHOLDT (2007) are nostalgic orchidologists (nostalogist or nostalgialists?) and they are going back in time to the seventies: the old Ophrys sphegodes group with Ophrys sphegodes ssp. mammosa and they describe only one species with greyish blue eyes (or in their terms: ‘eye-like knobs’) and that’s Ophrys sphegodes ssp. epirotica. But this subspecies with its more broad rounded lip and yellowish lip margin is not (yet?) flowering in Lesvos, only in Albania and north-western Greece.

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O. mammosa & blue eyed pollinator Andrena fuscosa?, Eftalou. © JvL 26-03-2010 #053

There remain KREUTZ and KARATZÁ. To begin with ‘Die Orchideen der Turkei’ (KREUTZ 1998): No O.alasiatica, herae, hystera, spruneri or sphegodes, only O.mammosa and O.pseudomammosa and (from the ferrum-equinum group) O.ferrum-equinum itself and O.labiosa of course, (because he described the plant and put his name behind it).
In ‘Die Orchideen von Rhodos, Karpathos’, (KREUTZ 2002), there is not so much to find because Ophrys mammosa is relatively rare on Rhodes and very rare on Karpathos. The only other species of the group in this book is Ophrys transhyrcana but this Ophrys is also extremely rare on Rhodes (only known from 3 locations) and extinct on Karpathos. The (for me) most interesting book is ‘The Orchids of Cyprus’, KREUTZ (2004). In this book Kreutz starts his Ophrys part with Ophrys alasiatica. And when I compared my ‘red’ mammosa with his (small) photograph of alasiatica on page 158 I thought: ‘well, maybe here is some resemblance’. And on Cyprus he describes besides Ophrys mammosa also Ophrys herae, O. hystera and O. morio. And look at his photograph of the ‘red’ morio on page 185: almost identical to my red mammosa species!
KARATZÁ found Ophrys spruneri in the region between Thermi, Pigí and Moria. He photographed an Ophrys aesculapii with green eyes and a big yellow margin on the lip in the Arápi Pétres (behind Mesa sanctuary) and Ophrys mammosa for instance around Andissa in the northwest, but all the other locations are in the southeast of Lesvos.

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Ophrys mammosa, Eftalou. © JvL 4-04-2012 #056

BOTTOM-LINE: Until now I only found Ophrys mammosa in Eftalou and Anemomilos (in the southeast, the Loutra side) on the gulf of Gera. In Anemomilos they were so big that I couldn’t miss them, in Eftalou I have tens of species, all individual plants with intense blue eyes, the most of them small and ‘travelling’ fast. These are difficult days in Eftalou; looking down all the time so you don’t step on one and crouching down when Andrena fuscosa, the pollinating bee of Ophrys mammosa is flying over to the scattered locations of ‘my’ Big Breasted Ophrys. Shall I apply for road signs?

Jan van Lent, Lesvos, 21-4-2011

Willie Nelson & Shania Twain: ‘Blue eyes crying in the rain’:

On my website janvanlent.com there was a incorrect E-mail address under CONTACT.
This has to be: vanlentlesvos@gmail.com.

*‘On foot’: the new walking guide for the whole of Lesvos by Mike Maunder and Sigrid van der Zee. Don’t go walking or looking for orchids without it…(www.lesvoswalks.net)


7. ‘Lost in wonderland’, not Alice but O. collina & H. robertianum in Eftalou!

Habitat Eftalou.

© Jan van Lent 7-04-2012 #004

Orchis collina, Eftalou. © JvL 7-04-2012 #004

Orchis collina Banks & Solander. Ex Rusell 1794 or 1798.
Orchis papilionacea group, on Lesvos: Orchis papilionacea and Orchis collina.

HABITAT: There are some days that miracles seem to happen all at once. For instance; here in our own ‘olive grove’ in Eftalou there were for several years 2 Orchis collina popping up every year. And suddenly, last year, they didn’t came back. I couldn’t even find their rosettes anymore. So last Saturday when I walked through the garden I thought, ‘why not look at the spot where the ‘collina’s’ were growing, maybe they’re back’. Well, nothing there. I looked around because I saw, two months ago, when the grass was not as high as today, many rosettes from the Holy Orchid, Orchis sancta, which is growing in abundance in Eftalou. And yes, there it was again, the Fan-Lipped Orchid, still small but beautiful. On a spot 5 meters away from where the ‘old’ ones were growing. But the ‘old’ ones had a completely different colour; they were rose-red, not white, dark red and green on the border of the lip. And when I last photographed the plant in 2009, it had yellowish-orange underskirts, maybe a sign that it had enough from this world and didn’t want to come back next year. But of course I didn’t recognize that sign.

© Jan van Lent 7-04-2012 #016

Orchis collina, Eftalou. © JvL 7-04-2012 #016

REMARKS: Orchis collina is normally one of the first orchids to flower in spring and it is easily recognizable by the fan-like lip with a hole at the base, the darker markings in the middle of the lip and the thick, sac-like spur. The ‘wings’, the sepals, are just like a bird of prey, spread out, therefore the flowers make the impression of hovering (as in the Orchis mascula/ anatolica group). The colour of the flowers varies from whitish-green and pink-reddish to dull brownish-mauve.

And here is something remarkable about the Eftalou flowering collina’s: they were always pinkish-red. Not only the ones down in our garden but also the 2 species I discovered in 2008 in the ‘stone field’, this is a ‘hilly’ olive grove down from a small waterfall (only during winter and spring of course) between our house and the (ex) garbage dump. After that year they never came back. But they had the same colour; pinkish-red. Last year I found a few Orchis collina at the hill edge next to Andissa, and they were almost the same colour as the one who is now growing in my garden. Did I unintentionally take seeds with me from those orchids? Is that the reason the newcomer was 5 meters away from the spot of the old ones? Is this a new plant?

© Jan van Lent 21-03-2009 #013

Orchis collina, Eftalou. © JvL 21-03-2009 #013

RESEARCH: John & Gerry (www.orchidsofbritainandeurope.co.uk) mentioned on their website that Orchis collina ‘is an unreliable flowerer and its appearance at all can be sporadic depending on the preceding winter/spring weather conditions’. Aha! By the way: All their photographs of O. collina are taken on Lesvos in the beginning of April.

After the eighties (SUNDERMANN Europe 1980) there didn’t change much in ‘Collina-land’; BAUMANN/KÜNKELE/LORENZ (Europe 2006) have nothing new to report on this species, not even a new subspecies name, neither has TAYLOR (Chios 2012, no Orchis collina around) and KREUTZ (1998-2002-2004), except that Orchis collina is not (anymore) flowering on Karpathos, but present on Rhodes, Crete and Cyprus but only occasionally in Turkey; KRETZSCHMAR & Eccarius (Crete & Dodenkanense 2004) feature the English name Hill Orchid instead of Fan-Lipped Orchid and KARATZÁ (Lesvos 2008) informs us that the Lófou Orchid (Lófos = hill) is flowering from Sigri to Gavathas in the west, around Achladeri at the Gulf of Kalloni to Plomari in the south and Ag. Marina in the south-east of Lesvos. DELFORGE (Europe 2005) on the other hand, has a lot of info, but mainly on the papilionacea group and Orchis papilionacea itself. He places collina in this group because of the entire fan-shaped and sometimes near rhomboidal lip of both species.

BOTTOM-LINE: The last four years I only found one Orchis collina high up Mt.Tavros above Komi, and four species at the Andissa ‘corner’.  So today we ‘also’ can add Eftalou as an Orchis collina habitat, and in the north ofLesvos…

© Jan van Lent 7-04-2012 #039

Himantoglossum robertianum, Eftalou. © JvL 7-04-2012 #039

‘Also’ because after ‘shooting’ Orchis collina and drinking a cup of coffee I did my daily walk through the abandoned olive groves up from our house. Because: ‘you never know’. And indeed you never know because in a field, in the most far away and most completely neglected olive grove in the whole neighbourhood, I saw a strange, big plant standing upright. And when I walked to it I realized that this was not possible: a Himantoglossum robertianum lost in ‘wonderland’. Just two weeks ago I wrote a blog about this amazing orchid and I complained that I only found 2 species on the Mt.Gerania after unsuccessfully driving up and down the track between Mytilini and Loutra (in the south of Lesvos) for years. And then here it is, standing in my own back garden. Thank you, Alice!

Jan van Lent, Lesvos, 12-4-2012.

© Jan van Lent 7-04-2012 #057

Himantoglossum robertianum, Eftalou. © JvL 7-04-2012 #057

Avril Lavigne: ‘Alice’. 2011.


6. ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall…eh, path’: Ophrys speculum.

Habitat: Eftalou.

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Habitat Ophrys speculum, Eftalou. © JvL 26-03-2010 #095.

Ophrys speculum Link 1799.
The Speculum group, on Lesvos only one species: Ophrys speculum.

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Ophrys speculum, Eftalou. © JvL 29-03-2012 #105.

HABITAT: At the side of a small goat path in the phrygana of Eftalou, there have been for donkey’s years (well, I discovered them in 2005) a few groups of Ophrys speculum, the Mirror Ophrys or, if you want, Ophrys vernixia ssp. orientalis, the Oriental Mirror Ophrys. A few years ago, on a very small track through olive – and pine trees, overgrown with Thorny Burnet (Sarcopoterium spinosum), very Thorny Wooly Broom (Calycotome villosa) and Spanish broom (Spartium junceum), I was following a trail (made by a tractor that went straight through the phryganae to reach a olive grove a few miles further on) when I discovered those small blue (but by then flattened) Mirror Orchids. A year later the municipality of Molivos made an agricultural road for the farmers so now they can reach their olive groves in a more decent way. Since then this quickly overgrown track is used by goats, horses, donkeys and for a few years, refugees. The first three do this for pleasure, I think; the refugees did it in the hope of reaching Europe, which is on Lesvos 70 kilometers away… well Mytilini is. And so ‘my’ blue Mirrors were again fit for the scrap heap. But what I’ve noticed the last years is that those Mirror Orchids went to the side of the path, more into the Thorny Burnett and the Shaggy Cistus (Cistus creticus). And this year I discovered a new spot in Eftalou were two beautiful Mirror Ophrys popped up, now on a more accessible habitat.

This orchid with his shiny blue lip will not give a lot of difficulties in terms of identification. It is the only species of this group of two growing on Lesvos (the other one, Ophrys regis-ferdinandii, King Ferdinand’s Ophrys, does not grow on Lesvos). And that is not only a pity, but also a little bit strange, because this ‘King Ferdinand’ is flowering on Chios, and that is, seen from the south of Lesvos, just a few miles across the sea. And also in Anatolia, on the peninsula of Cesme and in the neighborhood of Izmir, there are some species. But not in Lesvos, maybe it’s just a little bit too northerly!

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Ophrys speculum, Eftalou, © JvL 29-03-12 #114

RESEARCH: So this time no difficulties in terms of determination but (again) difficulties in the ‘official’ naming of the Oriental Mirror Ophrys; you just have to look at all its synonyms. And why? For more than 180 years it was well known under the name Ophrys speculum Link 1799. So why rename this plant? All vanity? Or: ‘mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the best orchidologist of us all’? Well, let see who that will be.
In the end of last century the name Ophrys speculum suddenly changed in Ophrys ciliata Bivona because Bivona-Bernardi discovered the pollinating wasp: Dasiscolia ciliata. But in 2001 H.F. PAULUS proved that the eastern plants of Ophrys speculum are pollinated by Dasiscolia ciliata subsp. araratensis instead of Dasiscolia ciliate. That should also explain the darker appearance of the eastern species of Ophrys speculum. And that’s why this eastern species of the Mirror Ophrys had already been named Ophrys speculum ssp. orientalis by DEVILLERS-TERSCHUREN in their ‘Essai systématique de genre Ophrys’ (1994), but they didn’t give this species this new name. H.F.PAULUS filled up this vacuum with the name Ophrys speculum ssp. orientalis H.F. Paulus.

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Ophrys speculum, Larissos corner. © JvL 6-04-2011 #326.

There was a period in which Kreutz, who still used the name O. speculum in his Turkey book (1998) re-baptized this species O. ciliata var. orientalis (H.F.Paulus) Kreutz (yes, look carefully at the infix var.) and in 2002 as O.vernixia ssp. orientalis H.F. Paulus 2001. In 2004 (in The Orchids of Cyprus’) he stated that ‘Ophrys ciliata = O. speculum’ was no longer present on Cyprus. And suddenly, between 2004 and 2012, ‘everybody’ went back to the old name Ophrys speculum Link, at least KRETZSCHMAR, H. & G. & Eccarius, W. (2004), DELFORGE (2005), TAYLOR (2012), ANTONOPOULOS (2009) and PEDERSEN/ FAURHOLDT (2007). But I think those last gentlemen didn’t came back from another name, because they still use Ophrys speculum ssp. speculum. (as in SUNDERMANN 1980). And also BAUMANN/ KÜNKELE/LORENZ (2006) suppose that O.speculum ssp. speculum is a more manageable name.
And yes, our ‘own’ KARATZÁ & KARATZÁ (2008) still uses Ophrys vernixia ssp. orientalis.

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Ophrys speculum, Eftalou. © JvL 29-03-2012 #010.

BOTTOM-LINE: Nowadays DELFORGE (Europe 2005) is of the opinion that ‘vernixia’ only occurs in Spain and Portugal, ‘speculum’ in the whole of the Mediterranean (but rare in Italy and France) and ‘var. orientalis’ (whose black of the basal field is extending to the sinuses of the lateral lobes; the speculum and the lip hairs somewhat darker) as an eastern variant. That has left us here on Lesvos again with two species and two choices: The more light-coloured Ophrys speculum and the darker, eastern/oriental growing, Ophrys speculum var. orientalis. To be honest, after again going through my entire ‘speculum’ photographs to find the differences, I give up: Please let it be just Ophrys speculum, in English: the Oriental Mirror Ophrys. And this English name is, I think, the name which suits this beautiful Orchid the best… pffft!

Jan van Lent, Lesvos, 4-4-2012.

BLIND GUARDIAN: ‘Mirror, mirror (on the wall).



5. ‘The big and the beautiful.’ Himantoglossum robertianum: ‘Changes’!

Habitat: Mt.Gerania.

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Himantoglossum robertianum, Mt.Gerania. © JvL 22-03-2012 #032

Barlia robertiana (Loiseleur) W.Greuter 1967 or
Himantoglossum robertianum (Loiseleur) P. Delforge 2005?
The Himantoglossum group. On Lesvos:
H. robertianum, H. comperianum, H. affine, H. montis-tauri, H. caprinum & Comptoglossum agiasense = H. comperianum x H. montis-tauri.

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Himantoglossum robertiana, Mt.Gerania. © JvL 22-03-2012 #049

I don’t know what it is this year. I go out for an orchid hunt and find nothing, or like today only ONE Orchis papilionacea. Of course, this is a very nice orchid, but to fill a blog with one Butterfly Orchis after all my visits to Ophrys mesaritica is a little bit disappointing, I think. And I want to do deal with Orchis papilionacea in another location, where I found beautiful, big, and also white papilionacea in recent years.

HABITAT: I decided to try my luck at Mt.Gerania. Mt.Gerania you think, Geranium? Stork’s bill? Well, Mt.Gerania is a beautiful mountain somewhere between Kalloni and Mytilini. And yes, there are hundreds of hills between those two cities. To be more precise; drive up a small track on your left directly after the turning to Plomari on your right and follow it to the end, where a farmer has blocked the way to ‘protect’ his sheep. So no driving over the hilltop and arriving (via Mt.Spathi) on the other side of Lesvos, at Loutropoli Thermís. No, you have to turn around and drive or walk back downhill. And going down from up is not the same thing as coming up from down, you see different things from a different angle. So last year when I went down after a very successful Orchis hunt, I saw out of the corner of my eye a big reddish orchid behind a fence. And what could that be? Yes, a real Barlia robertiana or with its other name: Himantoglossum robertianum. In English: the Giant Orchid or Robert’s giant Orchid. According to the few orchidologists who ‘did’ Lesvos in February or March, this plant should be standing alongside the track between Mytilini and Loutra. Three long years, between the middle of February and the end of March, I drove this track up and down and I never found this Giant ‘Roberts’ Orchid. And then here it was, on a track in the middle of April last year. I was flabbergasted! This Orchid should, according to the books, be flowering in February or the beginning of March! Of course I climbed up (that was not easy, the bank was very steep) and started to take photographs. But this fence… Okay, I removed the fence (after first very carefully listening in case there was a farmer coming along the road with his pick-up truck) and (while slipping down on my stomach, hanging on to the corroded fence with one hand) I made tens of photographs. By the way, the fence I replaced properly.

12 apr 11 084

 Himantoglossum robertianum, Mt.Gerania. © JvL 12-4-2011 #084

HUNTING: So, I knew where to go and look this year. On the spot along a small and already dry creek where I found last year a variety of beautiful Orchids, there was nothing to see or photograph. Oh yes, one very big rosette of an Ophrys from the Oestrifera group (the former fuciflora and scolopax groups). So over two weeks I have to come back and do it all over again… I do it all over for you. (From who was this song again?). But after this disappointing intermezzo I drove straight uphill to ‘my’ Giant Orchid. And yes, there it was, one month younger, still behind the fence, waving at me. I put my car directly under it, stepped out of my car, looked to make sure there were no farmers around and I saw another Giant Orchid, standing ten meters away, directly in front of me, no fence, no climbing needed. So I ‘shot’ this one.

Combi BEW4 H. robertianum 2011 & 2012,

Himantoglossum robertianum, Mt. Gerania. © JvL 12-04-2011 #097 & 22-03-2012 #044

RESEARCH: There is not so much to tell about Barlia or Himantoglossum robertiana, except of course about its name. No fights between the experts about its colour (from whitish-green to pinkish-red) its size (between 40-80cm) or the expression on its face. It is not a rare Orchid because it is distributed throughout the whole Mediterranean region, from Portugal to Turkey. No, only the name can lead to some tug-of-war. Should it be Barlia robertiana (Loiseleur) Greuter or Himantoglossum robertianum (Loiseleur) Delforge? Therefore, are we behind the Germans (Okay Swiss, but he was the last 30 years Professor in Berlin), as in GREUTER or behind the French (okay Belgian), as in DELFORGE? It really feels European this choice, like: are we behind Merkel or in ‘faveur’ of Sarkozy? But the remarkable thing is that G. & A. KARATZÁ (Lesvos, 2008), Greek nationals from Lesvos, go for Germany; for them it is also Barlia robertiana
So DELFORGE (Europe 2005) made his point, but at the moment he and TAYLOR (Chios 2012) are the only orchidologists who renamed Barlia into Himantoglossum. And because Delforge is a splitter he splits Himantoglossum in another 3 groups with 8 species and 2 hybridogenous taxa ‘of uncertain status’: the H. comperiana group, the H. robertianum group & the H. hircinum group. And on Lesvos we are in the lucky position that we have 5 of the 8 species and 1 hybridogenous taxa of those 3 groups.
The KRETZSCHMAR’s & Eccarius (Crete & Dodecanese 2004) are not of his opinion, for them it is Barlia robertiana. ‘the plant is close to the genera Himantoglossum and Comperia, but in contrast to these species it is early flowering.’ But their book was published before DELFORGE, so they still can change their minds…
And also for BAUMANN/KÜNKELE/LORENZ (Europe 2006) it is still Barlia robertiana: ‘the early time of flowering, the short split-up middle lip and lack of hybrids speak against a merge with Himantoglossum’. And their book came out after DELFORGE.
For SUNDERMANN (Europe 1980) it was unarguable Barlia robertiana. ‘A monotypic species with a broad distribution and only insignificant relations to Orchis or Himantoglossum; it makes no hybrids’.
And also KREUTZ (1998, 2002, 2004) goes in all his books for Barlia robertiana. He does not explain his vision or decision for this name.

12 apr 11 095 H.robertianum, Mt. Gerania

Himantoglossum robertianum, Mt.Gerania. © JvL 12-04-2011 #095

BOTTOM LINE: In my opinion (and for the comprehensibility of things) we can change Barlia into Himantoglossum and robertiana into robertianum. Why? Because I think it shares the same characteristics with the other members of this group (read DELFORGE p.348), but it is the drawing from the herbarium of E. Nelson & P. Delforge (see DELFORGE 2005, p.351) that really explained for me why they are related and why he puts them in 3 groups under the name Himantoglossum.

Jan van Lent, Lesvos, 1-04-2012
Revised: 31-5-2014 

In Memory of David Bowie, 1947-2016.
David Bowie: Changes (1971)