John and Gerry's    Orchids of Britain and Europe
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Gymnadenia austriaca
 

This species was first described by Teppner and Klein as a sub species Nigratella nigra ssp austriaca in 1990. It was subsequently reclassified G. austriaca and is an apomictic member of the G. nigra group within the genus Gymnadenia.

G. austriaca
is one of the commoner Vanilla Orchids with a range throughout the European Alps, apart from France where it is replaced by variety gallica (or iberica as preferred by some authorities). It can be found in full sun on calcareous alpine grassland from 1500 to 2500 metres where it's frequently seen in the company of G. rhellicani, a very similar species which in sometimes difficult to differentiate.

In its typical form G. austriaca has fewer and larger flowers than G. rhellicani, which in the mature plant are arranged in a flat topped, hemispherical inflorescence wider than it is tall. The flower spike of G. rhellicani on the other hand, is usually taller than it is wide and often considerably so, though unfortunately both species can throw up confusing atypical examples. Both species are referred to as the "black orchids" but the colouration of G. austriaca is generally a shade lighter and more obviously red, though again, both species can exhibit a considerable degree of variation. A final differentiator is cited as the lack of hairs on the bract edges of G. austriaca but in the experience of the authors this is unreliable.

Work is ongoing in Italy, in which DNA testing suggests, plants formerly regarded as G. austriaca, in fact conform more closely to G. rhellicani. It is far too early to draw firm conclusions from this limited regional work but the taxonomy and range of G. austriaca may come under future review. The pictures are from Italy and Austria, dating from the middle of July.