14. Himantoglossum or Comperia, comperianum or comperiana: ‘I saw her standing there’.

Habitat: Sanatorio Agiasos.

© JvL 22-5-12 #070

Himantoglossum comperianum, Sanatorio Agiasos. © JvL 22-5-12 #070

Comperia comperiana (Steven 1829) Ascherson & Gräbner 1907, or Himantoglossum comperianum (Steven 1829) P.Delforge.
The Himantoglossum group. On Lesvos: H. robertianum, H. comperianum, H. affine, H. montis-tauri, H. caprinum & Comptoglossum agiasense of Himantoglossum veraii = H. comperianum x H. montis-tauri.

HUNTING: There are years when you can’t find her, and there are years when you can. This year (2012) you could, if you were there. Almost everywhere you looked between a thousand metres before Sanatorio and the top of Olympos, she was there. And ‘she’ is the very rare, very strange and very beautiful Komper’s Orchid. So there is hope. Because in my ‘early’ years as orchidologist I searched those forests up from Agiasos for years; in vain I have to admit. Until that day at the end of May 2009 when I stopped my car next to the road, got out, climbed just up the bank at the left and immediately saw her standing there, directly in front of me. Okay, it was an old girl, but she was still wearing her long hair with dignity.

© JvL 31-5-09 #014

Himantoglossum comperianum, Sanatorio Agiasos. © JvL 31-5-09 #014

The next year I looked again on this spot but she wasn’t there anymore. A farmer, (yeah, who else) had laid a rubber waterline through this forest to water his pigs and by doing so cut a lot of trees and bushes. Frustrated I climbed down and searched the area for possible comperiana. And then, walking on the right side of the road, a few hundred meters back there she was again: standing between the bushes under a fence and in full flower.

© JvL 19-5-10 #030

Himantoglossum comperianum, Sanatorio Agiasos. © JvL 19-5-10 #030

But again that was the only one that year. Last year I was luckier, or was this already the pattern of things to come? I stumbled over 3 comperiana on 3 different habitats, Megalochori, Spides and Sanatorio, all in full flower.

© JvL 26-5-11 #121

Himantoglossum comperianum, Megalochori. © JvL 26-5-11 #121

And this year I found 13 Himantoglossum comperianum or if you prefer, Comperia comperiana on 6 different habitats: on the parking place where I parked my car in 2009, (I really had to avoid a comperianum which was standing in the centre of the parking spot; when I stopped and got out of the car to look at her I saw that I had parked my car centimetres from an Ophrys reinholdii. Pfft…) When I came back to this spot (can you really call a parking place a habitat?) on the 22nd of May, she was knocked down. I tried to rescue her (put a stick in the ground and tied her up) but a week later she vanished completely. As was the Ophrys reinholdii. Fortunately one of my friends walked up to the spot where I found my first comperianum in 2009 (I told her about that first find) and there she was again, small but in full flower (#070). The other 4 habitats were: a side path of the road to Sanatorio (1); along the road between Sanatorio and ‘the corner’ (4); on the track to Olympos (4); and above Megalochori (2).

So next year there will be maybe 20 comperiana on Lesvos? O, and can ‘we’ please do something about those names comperianum and comperiana? For instance: one plant is a comperianum and two (or more) plants are comperiana? Or a big ‘male looking’ plant is a comperianum and a small ‘female’ a comperiana? Thank you P. Delforge.
But I think Delforge is right with putting Comperia comperiana into the Himantoglossum group as he also did with Barlia robertiana. (See my blogs 5 and 7). Though I have to admit that I liked those (old) names (now synonyms) much better…

© JvL 22-5-2012 #082

Himantoglossum comperianum, Sanatorium Agiasos, © JvL 22-5-2012 #082

RESEARCH: Well, there is not so much to research on Himantoglossum comperianum. The naming I already mentioned. Maybe the places besides Lesvos where they should be growing are interesting to look at.
SUNDERMANN (Europe 1980): ‘This plant (Comperia comperiana) belongs to the most extreme oddities in our area: Aegean islands (Samos, Lesvos), Turkey, Crimea, Lebanon, Persia, Kurdistan and Luristan’ (Central mountain region of West-Iran).
KREUTZ (Turkey 1998): ’Regrettably in Turkey this formerly widespread species is now in great danger because of the digging up of the tubers for the making of Salep*, overgrazing, and the agricultural use of the sites. Therefore you will find the most specimens only in old graveyards. But unfortunately also there already the plants got increasingly hacked away in the last years.’
KREUTZ (Rhodes & Karpathos 2002): ‘Recent findings of Comperia comperiana (on Rhodes) have not been confirmed for the last few years now. Probably the species was able to colonize Rhodes after the reforestation had been carried out by the Italian administration. From then on Comperia comperiana had its south-western boundary in the southern Aegean region and is very rare at its habitat boundary. Comperia comperiana can therefore be classified as being extinct on Rhodes.’
KREUTZ (Cyprus 2004). No Comperia comperiana or Himantoglossum comperianum on Cyprus.
KRETZSCHMAR & Eccarius (Crete & Dodekanensis 2004): ’(Comperia comperiana) has not been observed on Rhodes with any certainty for several years.’ Nor on Crete or on Karpathos.
DELFORGE (Europe e.a. 2005): ‘(Himantoglossum comperianum) centred on Southern Anatolia: west to the Aegean (Lesvos, Samos, Kos, Rhodes), north to the Crimea, south to Lebanon and east to Iranian Kurdistan. Very local and very rare, greatly threatened in Turkey by its harvesting for salep*.
BAUMANN/KÜNKELE/LORENZ (Europe e.a. 2006): ’(Comperia comperiana) Aegean islands (Lesvos, Rhodes), Iraq, Crimea, Turkey, Iran, Lebanon.
TAYLOR (Chios 2012): A single Himantoglossum comperianum was found on Chios in May 2009 and it appeared again in 2010, but in 2011 there was no sign of the plant anymore.
KARATZÁ (Lesvos 2008): Sanatorium Agiasos, the whole Olympus region, Megalochori and Plomari.

© JvL 22-5-2012 #091

Himantoglossum comperianum, Sanatorio Agiasos, © JvL 22-5-2012 #091

BOTTOM-LINE: It will be not easy to mix up this typical and big plant with a small Orchis, a big Ophrys or even with the other Himantoglossum on the island. Only with the special mix from ‘on the corner’, the hybrid between H. comperianum x H. montis-tauri = Comptoglossum agiasense Karatzá 2004 or Himantoglossum veraii (Manning) you have to look more carefully but no doubt you will definitely see the differences.
So comperiana are not around on the Greek mainland, nor on Crete, nor on Karpathos. She is extinct on Rhodes and Kos. But on Samos there is this year one new find, on 14-5-12. On Chios there was one found in 2009 and again in 2010, but in 2011 there was no sign of the plant anymore. So then it is even more special that you still can see ‘her’ standing there, ‘everywhere’ above Agiasos. At least this year…

* Salep or salepi: In Turkey (as it was once in parts of Europe) the making of Salep, a kind of hot ‘sharkfin soup’ made of milk, cinnamon and the tubers of orchids (hence the name: Orchis means testicles in Greek), is the most important cause of the perishing of large numbers of orchid species and even complete genera. Between 1,000 and 4,000 tubers are needed to produce 1 kg of Salep, so between 500 and 2000 orchids have to be ‘slaughtered’ for maybe 10 or 20 cups of this drink.
To my surprise, no to my bewilderment, I saw tens of salepi handcarts (old ice-cream carts) appearing in the centre of Athens last winter, mostly pushed by refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. I hope that this will not be a new trend in the Greek crisis:
in Europe it is forbidden to dig out orchids…

© JvL 13-5-12 #037

Himantoglossum comperianum, Sanatorium road, Agiasos, © JvL 13-5-12 #037

Jan van Lent, Lesvos, 19-7-2012.

The Beatles: ‘I saw her standing there’ (1963):
n Memory of George Harrison (1943-2001) & John Lennon (1940-1980)



13. Platanthera holmboei & chlorantha. Just ‘A Forest’.

Habitat: chestnut forest above Agiasos.

© Jan van Lent 13-05-2012 #067

Platanthera holmboei, chestnut forest © JvL 13-05-2012 #067

Platanthera holmboei H.Lindberg fil. 1942. On Levos: only Platanthera holmboei?

HUNTING: Every late spring, in early summer and in the autumn I go out hunting in the beautiful Chestnut forest above Agiasos and Sanatorio. In autumn I hunt chestnuts there (other people shoot wild boar and deer then), and in April, May and June, I photograph orchids in those surprisingly cool woods here just under the Olympos mountain peak. But there are not a lot of orchids to hunt in this chestnut forest; many years I just came back with 4 Orchids: Orchis morio, provincialis & tridentata and Cephalanthera longifolia. Until, one hot day in the beginning of May last year, I parked my car in the shadow under a huge chestnut tree, stepped out and saw some Wild Peony (Paeonia mascula) shimmering between the trees high on the very steep hill in front of me. I went up to photograph them (yes, I’m not only doing orchids, peonies flower for just one week in the season, and I’m always fascinated by these big flowers), and climbed further up to the top of the hill (770m) to enjoy the view over the forest, the Olympos and Agiasos. Next to the field was an old stone wall, the barrier between the grassy field where the Peonies were growing and the chestnut forest. A piece of this wall was collapsed so I took a look in the forest, walked a few metres, stopped to let my eyes get used to the darkness, put my rucksack on the ground; almost on top of 2 small green Platanthera holmboei between the green ferns.

© JvL 26-05-2011 #066

Platanthera holmboei, chestnut forest © JvL 26-05-2011 #066

Until that moment I had never found a Platanthera in the ‘wild’. I knew that they were growing in this chestnut forest (because Karatzá mentioned this in his book and Manning on his website) but I had never found them! Besides the darkness, there is here, high up in the mountains between 2 and 6 in the afternoon, no sound to be heard, except of course the rustling of the chestnut leaves. So my heart stood still (for a moment) when next to me a big tortoise was composedly walking up the hill, eating the flowers in front of him. I didn’t dare to move my feet anymore in fear of stepping on other Platanthera or on this tortoise and looked around. And I mean you really have to look very, very hard to see these small green Platanthera in this forest. But after a while I saw 4 more plants standing on the left of me, and two more a few metres uphill. But unfortunately not one of them was yet flowering, so I took my photographs and walked down. And of course I decided to come back next week.

© JvL 20-05-2011 #092

Platanthera holmboei, chestnut forest © JvL 20-05-2011 #092

RESEARCH: But first let’s look which Platanthera is growing where: In 1980 SUNDERMANN followed SCHLECHTER (1928) who made 4 groups of Platanthera: bifolia (W- and E-Europe, N-Africa, N-Turkey, Russia, Greece – Asia up to the Himalaya and E-Siberia;
chlorantha (W- and E-Europe, N-Africa, Turkey, Russia, N-Greece – M- & E-Asia;
oligantha (N-Sweden, N-Finland, N-Russia, Siberia);
hyberborea (Island, Greenland, N-America);
micrantha/azorica (Azores). Do I count 5 groups? Yes I do!
This means that in principle there could be two Platanthera species growing on Lesvos(N-E-Greece): bifolia and chlorantha. The difference between bifolia and chlorantha is the position of the housings of the pollinia (the pollen bundle: the only two yellow parts of the flower): bifolia parallel and close to each other, chlorantha wider separated on the base and pollinia divergent (forming an open roof). So my Platanthera are certainly not P. bifolia. Under P. chlorantha Sundermann described two subspecies: ssp. chlorantha and ssp. algeriensis (Algeria and Morocco). But: ‘the difference (ssp. algeriensis) compared to chlorantha is insignificant, all the more because the distinguishing marks (green flowers, backwards curved lip, swollen spur and long bracts) also appear from time to time on chlorantha, or, for example on the from Cyprus described P. holmboei Lindberg 1942, which I place under chlorantha’.
So according to SUNDERMANN there was no P. holmboei, only P. chlorantha.

Let’s go to Turkey with KREUTZ (1998). He described three Platanthera species in Turkey: bifolia, chlorantha and holmboei. Platanthera holmboei: ‘Eastern Mediterranean, Lesbos,Turkey, Israel, Lebanon, W-Syria and Cyprus. For a long time it was thought that this species was endemic to Cyprus. Current reports submit Israel (KREUTZ 1993a), Cyprus (MORSCHEK 1996), Lesbos (BIEL 1998) and Turkey (KREUTZ 1998)’.
But this sentence confuses me still: ’Platanthera holmboei, in those days still Platanthera chlorantha, was found for the first time on Cyprus by KOTSCHY in 1859 (UNGER, et al., 1865). How’s that? Platanthera chlorantha was for the first time described in Switzerland by Reichenbach in 1827-28 I thought and Platanthera holmboei in Cyprus by H. Lindberg in 1942. So is there actually a difference between finding and describing, Kreutz?

KREUTZ, six years later (2004) in ‘The Orchids of Cyprus’ about Platanthera holmboei: ’Described from Cyprus by Lindberg in 1946 (?), this species has its main distribution area in the Troodos mountains and makes an abundant appearance in June, especially on the southern slopes. WOOD (1985) also reports P. chlorantha for Cyprus.
Kreutz: ‘There are indeed plants at the lower altitudes which are difficult to differentiate from P. chlorantha. There are plants at lower altitudes in Turkey, e.g. at Uludag near Bursa, which share characteristics both of P. chlorantha and also P. holmboei (KREUTZ 1998). All reports for the genus Platanthera have been placed in this book under P. holmboei, as the probably findings of P. chlorantha certainly involve lighter coloured specimens of P. holmboei. P. holmboei resembles P. chlorantha, but can be distinguished from this species by a lax inflorescence, by distinctly smaller light to dark green flowers and by the thread-like, not clubbed, horizontally directed spur.’

BAUMANN/KÜNKELE/LORENZ (2006): ‘P. holmboei is an east-Mediterranean plant: Lesbos, SW- & S-Turkey, Cyprus, NW-Syria, maybe Lebanon, N-Israel’. Difference between P. holmboei and chlorantha: ‘P. chlorantha grows higher, has bigger and lighter coloured flowers, spur is longer.’

Okay, so Lesvos is the only place or island in Greece where Platanthera is growing? Maybe, because TAYLOR (2012) didn’t find Plantanthera on Chios, KRETZSCHMAR & Eccarius (2004) didn’t find Platanthera on Crete & the Dodecanese, nor did KREUTZ (2002) on Rhodes and Karpathos.

And DELFORGE (Europe e.a 2005): ‘(P. holmboei) distribution: Eastern Mediterranean, reported from the coastal mountains from southern Anatolia south to Israel; may reach the Greek islands in the eastern Aegean. Rare and local.
’O, and for the spur: ’cylindrical, little or not at all flattened at tip.’ ‘(P. chlorantha) distribution Mediterranean: north to the coast of central Norway, south to Sicily. South-Eastern and south-Western limits poorly known as a result of confusion with neighbouring taxa. Widespread but uncommon.’

KARATZÁ (Lesvos 2008) found only Platanthera holmboei, and also between Agiasos and Megalochori.

© JvL 26-05-2011 #008

Platanthera holmboei, chestnut forest © JvL 26-05-2011 #008

BOTTOM-LINE: And I came back to the Chestnut forest two more times in May: once on the 20th and again on the 26th of June. On that day we had to run for our lives because lightning suddenly struck around us. In those dark woods we hadn’t see the dark blue sky coming; the thunderstorm came very quickly over the top of the hill. Running (or almost falling) down I also had to jump high when I almost stepped on a poisonous Viper who was also sliding down to safety.
But I came back in June to see if there were maybe other interesting orchids around on this spot. And then I photographed this plant:

© JvL 12-06-2011 #278

Platanthera chlorantha, chestnut forest © JvL 12-06-2011 #278

Is this still P. Holmboei? I don’t think so. I think this is Platanthera chlorantha (Custer) Reichenbach 1827. The difference between P. holmboei and P. chlorantha is, apart from the later flowering time of chlorantha (3 weeks later), the more whitish colour, the more lax inflorescence, the small tongue like lip which is weakly to strongly turned backwards and which gets smaller down to the lip point, and the thread-like (not clubbed) horizontally directed spur. Okay, the spur I don’t know, but the rest points in the direction of chlorantha. However, according to the experts there is no Platanthera chlorantha on Lesvos. Again I have to quote KREUTZ (2004) in ‘The Orchids of Cyprus’: ‘there are indeed -P. holmboei- plants at lower altitudes in Cyprus and Turkey which are difficult to differentiate from P. chlorantha but these are probably lighter coloured specimens of P. holmboei.’ Well, this habitat is not on a low altitude but on 770m, the first Platanthera flowering here on this habitat (8-5-2011, 20-5-2011, 2-5-2012 & 13-05-2012) is P. holmboei, later (26-5-2011) accompanied by P. chlorantha, and on 12-6-2011 only Platanthera chlorantha I think. And this is almost one-and-a-half months later than the first holmboei.
So the Platanthera family consists of c. 85 defined species in the world, to be found in Europe, Asia and America. In Europe there are between 6 and 8 species, in Greece two; Platanthera holmboei and Platanthera chlorantha. And where are those two? Only on Lesvos, in just ‘a forest’.

Jan van Lent, Lesvos, 11-7-2012

The Cure: ‘A Forest’ 1980.

‘A Forest’: The Cure live in Amsterdam (Jaap Edenhal) 17-11-1980: