Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Back in the UK I had a great interest in the country’s wild orchids and spent quite a lot of time searching for new species and eventually managed to see and photograph all but two species found there at that time. This interest has continued out here in Spain and I have over the last eight years searched for, and found, a great many species. Whether it is orchids, birds, butterflies or whichever branch of natural history that takes your fancy there is always that one species that you would like to see above all others.

For me almost from day one in Spain I have wanted to see and photograph the rare and I think beautiful Algerian Butterfly Orchid (Platanthera algeriensis). It is generally a green plant and compared to some species quite dull.

I had done quite a lot of research on the internet and verbally with some British and Spanish botanists and had drawn a blank with regards to a site but in 2012 this was to change when my good friends Juan Pérez Contreras and his wife Beatriz Pérez Machado and I spent a day searching for orchids down near Coín in Málaga Province. It was mid-March when we set off to visit several sites looking for some orchids in the Ophrys group which was mainly where Juan’s interest had been up until now.

Ophrys * Castroveijoi
Dark Spider Orchid (Ophrys Incubacea)









Our first stop did not disappoint as within a few minutes of arriving we had Woodcock (Ophrys scolopax), Yellow Bee (Ophrys lutea) and Sawfly Orchids (Ophrys tenthredinifera) photographed and this was just the start. At this same site we also found Ophrys Dyris, Mirror (Ophrys speculum), Pink Butterfly Orchids (Orchis papilionacea) and what was to turn out to be the find of the day the hybrid between Ophrys scolopax and Ophrys speculum (Ophrys x castroviejio), this turned out to be the first record for this hybrid for Andalusia and only the fifth record for the Iberian peninsular.

We moved on to the second site of the day where we hoped for and found several spikes of the superb Atlas Orchid (Ophrys atlantica) a very rare species found at a few sites in this area. Our next stop was just to show Juan and Beatriz the original site where the newly described Ophrys Malagatensis was first found by Michael Lowe and Ian Phillips as it flowered back in December and January and was well over with by now. Our final spot in this area was a little nearer to Coín, this site is set amongst working quarries and is under threat of being destroyed but at the moment it holds a good if not dusty colony of the uncommon Two-leaved Gennaria (Gennaria diphylla) and the much commoner Italian Man Orchid (Orchis italica) which we spent some time cleaning up before taking our shots.

Algerian Butterfly Orchid (Platenthera Algeriensis)
Algerian Butterfly Orchid (Platenthera Algeriensis)









From here we headed north calling in at Laguna Dulce and Fuente de Piedra for a couple of hours birding before continuing on to the Málaga side of Embalse de Iznájar for some more orchids. Here we searched a couple of different areas along the one road and added a few more species to the days list including the very rare Dark Spider Orchid (Ophrys incubacea) and the more common Somber Bee (Ophrys fusca subsp fusca), Ophrys subfusca, Bumble-bee (Ophrys bombyliflora), Small Woodcock (Ophrys picta) and Giant Orchids (Barlia robertiana). We finished the day with an amazing list of species including 13 Ophrys species.

… and then we found the first spike of the Algerian Butterfly Orchids and I was not disappointed; it was exactly as I had imagined and was in perfect condition.

This was the day when Juan got the orchid bug and from this point on with his contacts we were to see some brilliant species including my main target species, within a few days he contacted me to say he had a site where just three spikes of this plant, the Algerian Butterfly orchid, were said to flower, so all we had to do was wait until mid June.

We had several more trips out in the intervening period and recorded several more species including Fan-lipped (Orchis collina), Early Spider (Ophrys sphegodes), Small Early Purple (Orchis olbiensis), hybrid between Italian Man and Man (Orchiaeras bivonae), Champagne (Orchis champagneuxii), Lady (Orchis purpurea), Orchis cazorlensis, Dense-Flowered (Neotinea maculata), Pyramidal (Anacamptis pyramidalia), Lizard (Himantoglossum hircinum), Barton’s (Dactylorhiza insularis), Lange’s (Orchis langei), Robust Marsh (Dactylorhiza elata), Bee (Ophrys apifera), Small Tongue (Serapias parviflora), Heart-flowered Tongue (Serapias cordigera), Sword-leaved (Cephalanthera longifolia) and Red Helleborines (Cephalanthera rubra),  Burnt-tip (Orchis ustulata), Early Purple (Orchis mascula) and Fragrant Bug Orchids (Orchis coriophora subsp fragrans).

Eventually June came around and we went to the site for the star plant which was in the middle of nowhere in the mountains to the north of Granada. We drove to the reference given, then walked a further 3 or so kilometres down a steep track into a small valley with a very damp meadow at its base and started to search. We soon started to find spikes of Common Twayblade (Listera ovata) and Robust Marsh Orchid amongst the deep grass
We spent a long time at this site and took a great many photographs. We searched the area properly and by the time we were leaving we had counted over 40 spikes of this cracking little plant and we left very happy. The orchid year did not end there as we carried on and added a few later flowering species including Epipactis tremolsii, Small-leaved Helleborine (Epipactis microphylla) and Epipactis fageticola.

Mick Richardson – ABS Member

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