John and Gerry's    Orchids of Britain and Europe
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Dactylorhiza alpestris


This species was first described by Pugsley from Vorarlberg (Austria) in 1935 and originally referred to as Orchis Alpestris. It was subsequently reclassified as Dactylorhiza majalis ssp alpestris and ultimately afforded full species status as Dactylorhiza alpestris. Its name alludes to the alpine habitat favoured by this species.

D. alpestris is thought to be of hybridogenous origin involving the absorption of the ancient alpine population of D. cordigera by D. majalis.  Establishing an accurate picture of its distribution is difficult due in equal part to confusion with other similar species and as importantly, the frequency of intermediate populations. In the mountains of the east it overlaps with D. cordigera although the latter is the dominant species through the Balkans. To the west it is frequently encountered throughout the Alps, reaching as far as the Pyrenees of north western Spain.

Although D. alpestris is a very localized species, it can be abundant in its preferred sites but as already mentioned,  hybridization is a real issue and correct identification often problematic. Pure populations do however exist and the uncontaminated plant does possess characteristics that aid recognition. The most significant of these is the flower, which in comparison to D. majalis is larger, with a more widely flared and less three lobed lip. The area surrounding the stigmatic cavity tends to have a more extensive white perimeter and lip markings that are are bolder and more complete.

The pictures come from the Ecrins National Park near Grenoble in the French Alps and date from the first two weeks of July







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