|John and Gerry's Orchids of Britain and Europe|
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This species was first described by J. G. Gmelin from Siberia in 1792 and its name refers to the lack of green leaves. It is commonly and appropriately called the Ghost Orchid.
E. aphyllum is a truly saprophytic plant that inhabits cool, shady sites on alkaline or mildly acidic soils, usually amongst deep leaf litter. Its preferred location is generally dense pine or deciduous woodland where its flowers are pollinated by bees, attracted by the nectar which is reputed to smell of fermented banana.
Its range is extensive and covers all the temperate zones of Europe and Asia as far as (and including) Japan. Although a widespread orchid it is always rare and this localisation, together with its low, spindly stature and the darkness of its favoured environment result in an orchid that is invariably difficult to find. It is always a source of great pleasure to successfully locate a colony of this deceptively beautiful and undeniably fascinating species. In Britain E. aphyllum was last recorded from its famous site near Marlow in 1986 and was subsequently declared extinct in 1999. A great deal of study and hard work was then rewarded in 2009 when Mark Jannick rediscovered a single plant at a location in Herefordshire. Interestingly and notwithstanding the habitat description above, it was growing on a silty, sandy soil with a significantly high acidity level and no leaf litter.
The Ghost orchid is notorious for its unreliable appearances and it can regularly disappear or flower underground for several years. The illustrations accompanying this text come from the Vercors region of Southern France, dating from the beginning of July.