Category Archives: Ophrys

Prostrate

It’s the position I have to adopt to take pictures of what’s going on up on the sauveplaine at the moment. I wrote about my discovery of this area here on the blog two years ago, and I go there about as often as believers go to church/chapel/mosque etc, and for some of the same reasons: awe at something which is much greater than myself. There are lots of flowers coming into bloom, but many of them are little, low down or downright ground-hugging. I was on hands and knees anyway because the thyme is in flower and this is the moment to pick the delicate tips, which have the most flavour, and take it home to dry for seasoning dishes during the rest of the year.

Thyme flower harvest

Thyme flower harvest

I wasn’t the only one appreciating these miniature bouquets – I had to be careful not to pick bees at the same time.

bee on thyme flower

bee on thyme flower

I know there are many species of bee, and maybe some kind person, say Morgan from the wonderful blog The Reremouse will tell me which this is. She has a different standpoint: she once wrote that she sees a flower as something for insects to perch on, while I see an insect as something which flowers use to have sex.  If you’re interested by nature – and why else would you be reading this – and you don’t know The Reremouse, you’re missing something. So what else did I see while I was down there on the ground? I’ll start with the highlights: two orchids. The first is the common Yellow ophrys (Ophrys lutea), of which there was quite a colony.

Ophrys lutea

Ophrys lutea

The other was the white orchid , Narrow-leaved helleborine (Cephalanthera longifolia).

Cephalanthera longifolia

Cephalanthera longifolia

Now two ground-hugging prostrate plants which I photographed for the first time the other day on the sauveplaine. Both from the same family, the Fabaceae – you know, beans and peas and all that.  The first is a sort of broom, Cytisus supinus, which I identified with the help of another excellent site, Florealpes.  The site says this plant can be confused with a Bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus spp.), one difference being that the latter has leaves with stipules, little mini-leaves at the base of the leaf-stalk, while the former doesn’t.

Cytius supinus

Cytius supinus

This sort of plant is often most easily identified by its fruit, since the flowers and leaves are very minor variations on a common pattern. I was lucky to have caught the charactersitic fruits of the second plant, Hippocrepis biflora, which are flattened and a bit like a strange saw-blade.

Hippocrepis biflora

Hippocrepis biflora

Hippocrepis biflora - the fruit like a saw, or something

Hippocrepis biflora – the fruit like a saw, or something

And the rest? A quick round-up, starting with a couple of spurges – a favourite of mine – I did three posts on the genus a little while ago. The common Euphorbia serrata:

Euphorbia serrata - one of the most common spurges on the roadside

Euphorbia serrata – one of the most common spurges on the roadside

and a rarer sight, the remarkable Euphorbia exigua:

The dramatic Euphorbia exigua

The dramatic Euphorbia exigua

A Star of Bethlehem, Ornithogallum montanum:

Ornithogallum montanum

Ornithogallum montanum

Wild Clary, Salvia verbenaca:

Salvia verbenaca

Salvia verbenaca

Rosy garlic (Allium roseum):

Allium roseum

Allium roseum

Grey-leaved cistus (Cistus albidus):

Cistus albidus

Cistus albidus

The title for the jazz came easily from a phrase I found I’d written: it’s the guitarist Grant Green with the tune Down here on the ground.

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Filed under Allium, Cistus, Cytisus, Euphorbia, Hippocrepis, Ophrys, Ornithogallum, Salvia, Thymus

What is it about orchids?

I’ve begun to ask myself why I  announced  I’d do a post about a few orchids I’d seen recently. Why should that be special? Would I do the same for a few thistles?

I suppose what might make orchids appealing could be their rarity value – though some are locally common. Or it could be their colour – many are vividly pigmented, as are many other plants which also have bulbs or tubers: dahlias, irises, tulips and so on.  I think there’s a clue there, in the underground storage reserves which bulbs or tubers represent.

Usually, spring here is short: March and April are the months when it’s warming but not baking, and it’s the season with the most rain.  If you’re a plant, you’ve got eight weeks to get your flower out, get pollinated and set your seed. Plants which have a bulb, corm, rhizome, tuber etc (called geophytes because a significant part of their yearly cycle is spent in the earth) have an edge here over seeds which have to germinate and then generate energy from photosynthesis. A bulb or tuber can get a big showy flower out and attracting insects before your average weeds have woken up.  It’s a bit like a desperate annual village dance: the singles have a very short time to attach, match and hatch, and those with a stored sexy wardrobe are out in front (double entendre intended).

Then the bulbs and tubers have another function: to enable such plants to survive a harsh season, and here in the Midi that usually means the long hot dry summer (which still hasn’t started yet, by the way, and we’re all getting pretty impatient).

So the vivid colours and fascinating shapes of orchids are all about sex – they’re going to flaunt themselves for all they’re worth to get their pollinator while they can, and many have ‘chosen’ the high-risk strategy of focusing on a single pollinating insect – the  ‘I’m gonna get Derek and I don’t care what it takes’ option. Since the combination of sex and gambling seems to power most of the internet (at least its spam content), why should I be surprised that it interests botanists.

So here are a few examples spotted at the Botany Hop, disporting themselves like stars on the Cannes red carpet.

Orchis mascula - early purple, or male, orchid

Orchis mascula – early purple, or male, orchid

This is Orchis mascula, the male, or early purple, orchid. I imagine that it gets its male name from the long upcurved spur, which looks, well, interested, if not to say priapic.  Or have I just got a mild dose of orchidelirium coming on?

the excited orchid

This flower was spotted in the Loire region a few weeks ago, and we saw many by the roadside driving back home – until we got home. It doesn’t seem to get on too well with the Mediterranean climate, and may only be found in the mountains here. I haven’t seen it near my village.

Now a couple of species from the genus Ophrys which have really adapted to specific insects by evolving the lowest petal into a large patterned lip.  To quote my flora:

The insect-like nature of the lip attracts males of particular insect species, stimulating them into pseudo-copulation during which they pick up pollen.

I was thrilled to find a whole colony  of Ophrys lutea – Yellow Ophrys – a couple of weeks ago. This flower has evolved to attract a single genus of bee: Andrena. Apparently this flower is unusual in that the bee poses backwards, i.e. abdomen towards the plant, to pick up pollen during  its ‘pseudocopulation’. Interesting.

Ophrys lutea

Ophrys lutea

And here’s another species, Ophrys scolopax – the Woodcock Orchid.

Ophrys scolopax: 'That's lovely, darling, just face me..

Ophrys scolopax: ‘That’s lovely, darling, just face me..

 

..and now one from the side'

..and now one from the side’

No, this isn’t pollinated by woodcock, but the pattern on the lip looks a bit like that on the head of the bird.  Judge for yourself.

Woodcock - thanks to wikipedia

Woodcock – thanks to wikipedia

I photographed this only a few days ago on the sauveplaine near the village. I can’t wait – but I will – to show you this astounding habitat, which just took my breath away.  More in the next post.

Now the themes of exuberant showing off and dancing made me think of Count Basie: here’s a great film clip from 1943 of his ‘One o’clock jump’.

 

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Filed under Ophrys, Orchis