Orchids on Pelješac

Published in Nature Watch

Orchid enthusiast Frank Verhart continued his researches into European orchids during 2016. He found much of interest on the Pelješac peninsula.

Orchis tridentata Orchis tridentata Photo: Frank Verhart

Frank Verhart from the Netherlands has lifelong experience looking out for orchids, and his expertise increases year on year. In 2015 he explored the Dalmatian islands of Hvar and Brač as the guest of Eco Hvar, and introduced many to the magic of the often tiny treasures to be found in woodlands, fields, gardens and roadsides. He was able to show why it is so important to look after these protected plants, as they all too easily get overlooked when individuals and local authorities spray areas with herbicides, and as a result of thoughtless fly-tipping in the countryside. Mapping where the orchids are to be found plays a key role in their protection. Frank logs his orchid findings with care, resulting in detailed maps for the records. In his identifications and classifications, he uses the taxonomy from the standard work by the Belgian expert Pierre Delforge, 'Orchids of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East', published by Christopher Helm Publishers, 2006.

Aceras anthropophorum (Man orchid). Photo: Frank Verhart

Over several years, Frank has generously been sharing his detailed findings with Prof.dr.sc. Toni Nikolić at the Department of Botany in the Biology Division of Zagreb's Science University, who is responsible for compiling the full listing of Croatia's plants, the Flora Croatica Database.

Ophrys tommasinii. Photo: Frank Verhart

In 2016, Frank visited France and Croatia, by way of Slovenia. As he reports: "all still and as usual by hitch-hiking. On the way [to Croatia] I have visited and stayed overnight at Miran Ipavec's Autostoparski Muzej (Hitch-hiking Museum) in Bled, Slovenia. Miran is maybe the most experienced hitch-hiker, distance wise, in Slovenia.. I’ve again been able to do some very cool observations, especially Orchis ustulata and Cephalanthera damasonium (Burnt orchid and White helleborine) as they have never been reported from Pelješac before, and I am fairly confident indeed, that there are no official reports of those. The latter has recently been found by Croatian botanists for the first time on Mljet 2012 and Korčula 2013, I think this is quite remarkable..."

Orchis ustulata. Photo: Frank Verhart

The Orchis ustulata (neotinea ustulata, burnt orchid, burnt-tip orchid) is fairly common across Europe, to which it is native, but is considered endangered in the United Kingdom, according to the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens. That said, Kew reports that there has been a significant decline in central Europe "due to habitat destruction as a result of building, quarrying and, in particular, more intense agricultural practices. Burnt-tip orchids can only survive in unfertilised, unploughed grassland due to their protracted underground growth period. In addition, where grazing is discontinued burnt-tip orchid is liable to decline because its small size means it cannot survive in long grass."

Cephalanthera damasonium. Photo: Frank Verhart

The Cephalanthera damasonium (White helleborine) which Frank identified on Pelješac is very rare on the peninsula, and this is its first entry on the Zagreb database. In Croatia it is considered endangered and is strictly protected. In the United Kingdom, by contrast, it is considered widespread, despite the loss of woodlands which are its natural habitat. The Cephalanthera damasonium develops slowly. One was nurtured with loving care over more than ten years in the grounds outside an Oxford brain research unit (MRC Anatomical Neuropharmacology Unit), only to be mowed down one day in a thoughtless 'tidying up' landscaping operation, Maintenance of public green spaces should be based on an appreciation of the wonderful gifts of wild plants which they can bring. All too often there is a policy of suppressing anything which grows naturally, whether with herbicides, mowers or strimmers. In Croatia, and elsewhere, this means that the concept of protecting wild plants like orchids is completely disregarded.

Epipactis microphylla, flowering early, 22.04.2016. Photo: Frank Verhart

Another uncommon finding by Frank: "Epipactis microphylla (Small leaved helleborine) was reported for the first time from Pelješac in 2013, I found it as well in two plants in a different part of the peninsula." Frank also reported that it was flowering unusually early, on April 22nd 2016.

Ophrys bombyliflora. Photo: Frank Verhart

The Ophrys bombyliflora, another rare finding on Pelješac, gave Frank particular pleasure: "oh what a joy to see Ophrys bombyliflora again on Pelješac, after I had seen it in 1998 for the last (and only) time on Rhodos...! By heart I believe that Zagreb University has just one record of this species for Pelješac, and I have now reported them in another three locations."

Serapias ionica. Photo: Frank Verhart

The Serapias ionica is another rare find on Pelješac. It was first identified in 1988 on Cephalonia in Greece. It is thought to be found only on the Ionian Greek and Southern Dalmatian Croatian islands, but there is some hope that it might also appear on the mainland. On the coast, the Serapias ionica is felt to be at risk from agriculture and building development, especially in places where tourism is important to the local economy.

Orchis morio. Photo: Frank Verhart

Besides the rare findings on Pelješac, Frank observed many more familiar orchids. However, a couple appeared in unusual colours, notably the orchis morio (pictured above), and the orchis italica (below).

Orchis italica, unusual colour. Photo: Frank Verhart

One comment on Frank's picture gallery suggested that the Orchis italica colour might have been affected by radiation or pollution.

Anacamptis pyramidalis. Photo: Frank Verhart
Frank's trained eye can spot even the humblest orchid hidden among a host of other plants. Orchids also grow in specially vulnerable places like roadsides, where they are in danger of being crushed by carelessly parked cars, or even irresponsibly discarded rubbish. More awareness of the exquisite natural gifts all around us would allow these beautiful plants to flourish safely for generations to come. Without more care, there is great danger that many will be irredeemably lost.
To read Frank's detailed account of his observations of orchids in Croatia, click here.
To see more of Frank's gallery of orchid pictures from Pelješac on Facebook, click here - you need to have a Facebook account to access the page.
Key reference work: Delforge, Pierre, 2006. 'Orchids of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East', published by Christopher Helm Publishers. ISBN: 13: 9780713675252
Eco Hvar is extremely grateful to Frank Verhart for continuing to share his orchid explorations with us.
© Vivian Grisogono MA(Oxon) 2017
 
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