John and Gerry's    Orchids of Britain and Europe

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Gymnadenia conopsea x rhellicani

G. conopsea and G. rhellicani are two of the most widespread and familiar of Europes high alpine species and its perhaps not surprising therefore that they are the genetic contributors to what is almost certainly the most common of the continents montane hybrids. The hybrid has been known for many years and is named Gymnadenia x suaveolens.

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. rhellicani is a more specialist mountaineer, but certainly the commonest of the Vanilla Orchids, with a range throughout the European Alps and Carpathians, probably into Russia. It can be found growing at as little as 1000 metres but is also the species which reaches the highest altitudes, having recently been discovered in several sites at and above the 3000 metre level.

The range of Gymnadenia x suaveolens is obviously determined by that of its progenitors, as is its habitat choice, this being calcareous grassland between 1000 and 2500 metres. The hybrid is however found more frequently below the 2000 metre level where plant numbers are higher and pollinating insects more prevalent. As can be seen from the photographs the plant is variable, but almost always of bright magenta colouration and of a size midway between the two parents. In the field the combination of these two characteristics make Gymnadenia x suaveolens highly visible, even in an already colourful alpine meadow.

The pictures are all from the Dolomites and date from the first two weeks of July.