John and Gerry's    Orchids of Britain and Europe

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Gymnadenia conopsea x buschmanniae

G. conopsea is one of the most widespread and familiar of high alpine species and its perhaps not surprising therefore that it is one of the commonest genetic contributors to hybrid plants found in European mountains. Perhaps the most frequently encountered of the continents montane hybrids is G. conopsea x G. rhellicani, a cross that has been known for many years and named Gymnadenia x suaveolens. The subject of this page is however a much rarer beast, this being the offspring of hybridization between G. conopsea and G. buschmanniae.

G. conopsea is a widespread and sometimes abundant orchid with a huge distribution that covers boreal and temperate Eurasia right through to China. Although it grows happily at sea level, in the south of its range (eg France and Spain) it becomes a mountain dweller, enduring altitudes of up to 2500 metres. G. buschmanniae is a more specialist mountaineer, and one of the rarest of the Vanilla Orchids, with a range limited to the Brenta range of the Italian Dolomites. It can be found growing within a narrow altitude band between 2300 and 2400 metres where it chooses sheltered positions in alpine grassland and limestone pavement. This therefore determines the specialised habitat preference for G. conopsea x buschmanniae.

An interesting feature of G. buschmanniae is that, as with many of the Vanilla Orchids (though not rhellicani ), it is apomictic and its primary method of reproduction is therefore asexual. This capability does not however mean the plant is totally without sexual function and although rare, fertilization can occur and reproduction be achieved by this process. This potential is called facultative apomixis and facilitates species diversity and in this case, hybridization. The pictures are all from the Dolomites and date from the last two weeks of July.