|John and Gerry's Orchids of Britain and Europe|
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|Gymnadenia rhellicani var robusta|
variety was first described by Teppner and Klein from Savoie,
France in 2003 and its varietal name refers to its robust form.
G. rhellicani var robusta is as its name suggests, a more sturdy plant and can normally be recognized by this feature. This can however be complicated by the fact that the species and variety may grow in close proximity and form numbers of intermediates that can be difficult (if not impossible) to separate.
Gymnadenia rhellicani was originally considered to be a subspecies of nigra (formerly Nigritella nigra) and was the classic representative of that well known and best loved of high alpine species, commonly called the Black Vanilla Orchid. This name is a reference to both the black/red colouration and the strong scent of vanilla produced by the small, delicate flowers. Variety robusta is however a less delicate plant particularly in respect to the inflorescence which is taller and contains a greater number of individual florets (up to 125). Whilst G. rhellicani itself is one of the most widespread of the Vanilla Orchids, with a range that takes it from the French Alps right across to the Carpathians, robusta is restricted to the western Alps. It can however be abundant in its favoured stations.
G. rhellicani together with variety robusta is a prolific nectar producer and is known to attract numerous insects, with more than fifty of them recognized as pollinators. Interestingly a high proportion of these pollinators are various species of the many butterflies that thrive in the high alpine pastures.
The pictures are from the Ecrins National Park to the east of Grenoble and date from the 10th of July.