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Himantoglossum robertianum

This handsome orchid was first described from Var in 1807 and is named in honour of Monsieur G.N. Robert, a French botanist of the late 18th and early 19th century. The species is commonly known as the Giant Orchid and is a thoroughly familiar one to any botanist who has spent time in the Mediterranean during early Spring.

H. robertianum
is a widespread species which although unaccountably absent or rare in certain areas can equally be locally abundant in its favoured locations. Its distribution is centred on the Mediterranean but  includes the Atlantic coasts of Spain and Portugal in the west and as far as Anatolia in the east. It is a huge orchid that can exceed 100 cms in height and is virtually impossible to confuse with any other species apart from its fellow group member H. metlesicsianum. which although very closely related, has long led an isolated life on Tenerife in the Canary Islands. This separation by several hundred miles of ocean from its probable progenitor has enforced a different evolutionary development.

It will grow in full sun to mid shade on alkaline soils and its stature makes it a useful plant as a marker when looking out for good orchid habitat from a moving car ! Interestingly it has  a very pleasant scent reminiscent of Lily of the Valley. H. robertianum has had a complex taxonomic history having variously been regarded as an Orchis, Aceras and then an Himantoglossum before becoming a Barlia and then returning again to its current placement within the genus Himantoglossum.  

This is a very early species which in the warmest parts of its range can be in flower during December, though more usually February and March.