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Gymnadenia rhellicani

This species was first described as Nigratela rhellicani by Teppner and Klein from the Gurktaler Alps, Austria in 1990. It was named in honour of the 16th century Swiss naturalist, J. Muller who was also known by the name of Rhellicanus. The species has now been incorporated into the G. nigra group of the genus Gymnadenia.

Gymnadenia rhellicani is indisputably the most widespread and frequently encountered of the twenty species currently comprising the G. nigra group. Its range takes it from the western Alps, eastwards to the Carpathians and although unconfirmed, probably into Russia. It can be abundant in its favoured locations, where it grows in short alpine turf as low as 1000 metres up to a recently recorded altitude of over 3000 metres. G. rhellicani together with G. austriaca are colloquially known as the "Black Vanilla Orchids" and are frequently found growing alongside each other. In typical plants there are easily discerned distinguishing characteristics, unfortunately however the natural variation within both species can often render accurate identification all but impossible except to the experienced scientific eye. Work is ongoing in Italy, in which DNA testing suggests plants formerly regarded as G. austriaca, in fact conform more closely to G. rhellicani.

G. rhellicani is hugely variable in most of its morphological features and not least flower dimensions, shape of inflorescence and colouration. Its suspected that taxonomic changes will take place in the future but for the present this species must be seen as difficult to satisfactorily describe. The pictures are from France, Italy and Austria, dating from the month of July.