Gymnadenia R.Br. is an old world northern hemisphere genus of the Orchidaceae family. Other than in the related Orchis, the fleshy storage roots are somewhat hand-shaped, which caused some of the local trivial names like "manina rosea" (small pink hand) in Italian or "Händelwurz" (small hand root) in German. Several species are known for their complex, day-time dependent scent. The former separated species Nigritella is now included by most authorities in Gymadenia. The now about 26 species reach from the Iberian peninsula to Japan, with few species introduced in North America.

Though the plants form symbiotic partnerships with fungi, these seem to be unspecific enough to allow for some species to be kept as garden subjects.

Gymnadenia conopsea (L.) R.Br. is a widespread species in northern Europe and northern Asia, but is also reported to have naturalized in Connecticut. The common name, fragrant orchid, may not be very creative, but fits the plants well: tall loose spikes of long spurred pink or rarely white flowers, accompanied by long, glossy leaves are easily identified as an orchid, and the pleasant smell reminds of cloves. The tight, long spur limits the availability of nectar to butterflies. Like many Gymnadenia species, this species likes limestone grassland or calcareous marshes and full sun to light shade, as long as the soil doesn't dry out completely. Pictures by Martin Bohnet from plants in habitat on the Swabian Alp, southern Germany.

Gymnadenia conopsea, Martin BohnetGymnadenia conopsea closeup, Martin Bohnet

Gymnadenia odoratissima (L.) Rich. is a smaller pink Gymnadenia species with high demands regarding calcerous substrate, so it's range concentrates on the Limestone Alps and the Swabian Alp and similar areas in northern Spain, southern Sweden and the Ukraine. Both grass land as well as open woods are occupied as long as they are not too dry. Flowers are less than half the size of G. conopsea, and the spur is shorter than the ovary. The flowers have a strong, vanilla-like scent. Pictures from plants in habitat on the Swabian Alp.

Gymnadenia odoratissima, Martin Bohnet


Gymnadenia x intermedia Peterm. is a natural hybrid of G. conopsea and G. odoratissima. It is common wherever both species overlap and is roughly intermediate in all aspects. It may be fertile, since some populations seem to cover the whole range between the parents. Pictures by Martin Bohnet of plants in habitat on the Swabian Alp.

Gymnadenia x intermedia, Martin BohnetGymnadenia x intermedia group of plants containing both parents, Martin Bohnet

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