John and Gerry's    Orchids of Britain and Europe
Home Back to Gymnadenia species Links

Gymnadenia conopsea ssp densiflora

G. conopsea v conopsea was first described by Brown from Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany in 1753 and its name means "with the appearance of a fly". For many years it's been familiar as the Fragrant Orchid, this
being a reference to the distinct clove like scent of the flowers.

G. conopsea is a widespread and sometimes abundant orchid with a huge distribution that covers boreal and temperate Eurasia right through to China. In the south of its range (France and Spain) it becomes a montane species and is quite at home up to 2500 metres in the European Alps, growing alongside more recognized Alpine species such as its close relative G. rhellicani.

In  Britain it is not easily confused  with other species though it will happily hybridize and a recent example has appeared at Kenfig National Nature Reserve in Wales, where G. conopsea has been found crossed with D. praetermissa. Although hybridization amongst species within both Gymnadenia and Dactylorhiza as individual genus can be relatively common, intergenetic instances are much more unusual.

There are  two recognized subspecies, the first being borealis which favours acid or neutral soils and the one depicted here, densiflora, both of which occur throughout the range of G. conopsea itself. The latter variety   (densiflora) favours damp alkaline meadows and fens though it also seems reasonably content to grow in drier conditions,  particularly in Alpine areas. Nonetheless it is commonly referred to as the Marsh Fragrant Orchid.  The individual flowers are virtually identical to conopsea but the plant itself is much taller and of more robust appearance.  Densiflora  often grows side by side with conopsea and where this occurs hybridization is common and usually results in a large number of intermediates.