John and Gerry's    Orchids of Britain and Europe
Home Back to Spiranthes species Links

Spiranthes romanzoffiana
 

S. romanzoffiana was first described from the Aleutian islands, Alaska in 1828 and it takes its name from N. Romanzoff who was an 18th/19th century minister in the Russian government which at that time governed the islands.

This is one of Europe's rarest orchids and the exact reason for its existence in the north west of the British Isles and Ireland is the subject of much professional speculation. The natural home of S. romanzoffiana is in the boreal and temperate areas of the northern United States where it inhabits peat bogs and the more acidic coastal marshes. Its sites in Europe which are centred on the west coast and islands of Scotland and Cork and Kerry in Ireland offer very similar habitats and its not surprising therefore that this orchid finds itself at home. The mystery however is how it arrived in these locations and opinion is divided between the view that it's a 10,000 year old survivor from before the last ice age or that seed is regularly ferried across the Atlantic by either birds or perhaps even as windblown material. The European locations for this orchid do coincide quite conveniently with the summer passage of White Fronted Geese and this potential source of colonization appears a real possibility.

S. romanzoffiana is recognizable from the very early stages of bud development by the the manner in which the flowers/buds tightly spiral up the stem and particularly in the the solidity of the flower head itself. Although this species is appreciably more robust than the the other European Spiranthes, it is somewhat weedy in comparison to its relatives across the Atlantic. The pictures are all from a site in Argyll and date from the middle of August, at which time the plants were still not in full bloom and consequently don't completely demonstrate the characteristic flower spirals mentioned above.