Tag Archives: orchids

Visiting Northern Istria

It was a slightly  cloudy day in mid-May when I decided to visit the northern part of Istria (Croatia), between Mount Ucka (Fig. 1) and the mountainous plateau of Cicaria, which is an extension of the Dinaric Alps. The area is mostly uninhabited, wild and largely untouched. Flower-rich wheat meadows are dominant here; in the past they were (most probably) pastures. Today they provide habitats for bees, butterflies, grasshoppers, spiders, mammals, reptilians and so on. Among flowers, I recognized Polygala nicaensis, members of the genera Ajuga and Ranunculus, various orchid species and, of course, grasses. Among orchids, I found Orchis puprpurea (Fig. 1 and 2), Orchis tridentata (Fig. 3), the very common and widespread Orchis morio, the delicate Cephalanthera longifolia and the non-photosynthetic Neottia nidus-avis, which prefers shady places along the nearby deciduous woodland.

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Fig. 1 Orchis purpurea and the Mount Ucka in the background.
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Fig. 2 Orchis purpurea
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Fig. 3 Orchis tridentata

Given the altitude and the higher soil moisture level, the plant communities present here are the typical sub-mediterranean ones. Therefore, I had the pleasure to meet some butterfly species for the first time, one of those meriting a special attention: Everes alcetas (Fig. 4) or the Provencal short-tailed blue. It is a member of the Lycaenidae family which, although occuring sporadically, it is common across the central Europe.

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Fig. 4 A couple of Everes alcetas standing on a pillow of tiny purple flowers of the genus Thymus.

In general, they feed on plants of the genus Medicago, Coronilla varia and Galega officinalis where they lay their eggs. They prefer bushy and sunny places but in Istria are very local and spotted by me only in this location.

One butterfly species that I encountered in the same area is the marsh fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia), a member of the Nymphalidae family (FIg. 5 and 6). This species is in decline in Europe, and is protected under law in the United Kingdom. However I managed to see them quite abundantly in many sites around Istria; perhaps because their habitat – the damp heathy grasslands – is still pretty intact in this region.

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In the same place I found another very peculiar butterfly species: Southern Festoon (Zerynthia polyxena), member of the Papilionidae family (Fig. 7).

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Fig. 7 Zerynthia polyxena

This is a widespread species, present in the central and southern Europe. However, it is very local and in Istria I found it only here. Larvae feed on members of the Aristolochia genus and in some areas, for instance in Hungary, it is restricted to only one Aristolochia species: the Birthwort (Aristolochia  clematitis). The wings are yellow, a bit paler in females, covered with a gaudy pattern of several black bands and spots, with a distinctive black sinuous line at the margin. On the edge of the hindwings there are several blue and red warning spots. The body is black, with red warning spots at the side.

Photos by Ingrid Ugussi Vukman

 

 

Orchids of Cape Kamenjak (Orhideje rta Kamenjaka)

Orchids are the most evolved of all flowering plants and, at the same time, among the most demanding, thus they can thrive only in optimum conditions. Their presence is good indicator of a healthy and functioning ecosystem.

Warm climate and the presence of various succesional stages within the area of Kamenjak create ideal conditions for orchids. With abouts 30 different species, subspecies and hybrids observed so far, of which two are endemic (Serapias istriacaFig. 3, and Serapias x pulae), it is one of the richest site in Istria.

Considered as the queen of flowers, orchid flowers are indeed beautiful and provide a pleasure for careful and appasionate visitors.

Starting from mid March, first orhids, mainly of the species Anacamptis morio (Fig. 1 and 2), appear. The inflorescence is usually purple, however, other colours, such as white and pink, can be observed, see Anacamptis morio colours.

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Fig. 1 Anacamptis morio
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Fig. 2 Close-up of Anacamptis morio
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Fig. 3 Serapias istriaca

While Anacamptis morio becomes more and more widespread, other appariscent orchids species join, like Orchis papilionacea (Fig. 4) and Ophrys sphegodes subsp. atrata (Fig. 5), which harmoniously merge with the green meadow around.

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Fig. 4 Orchis papilionacea
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Fig. 5 Ophrys sphegodes subsp. atrata

Other common species that can be found from the end of March are Serapias lingua, Ophrys bertolonii (Fig. 7)  and, the smallest one, Ophrys bombyliflora (FIg. 6).

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Fig. 6 Ophrys bombyliflora
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Fig. 7 Ophrys bertolonii

Being common orchid species of Kamenjak, they all can be seen in April without too much effort. Anyway, some of the most beautiful species are also the rearest in this area. Among these is the late spider-orchid (Ophrys fuciflora, Fig. 8) and the bee orchid (Ophrys apifera Fig. 9). Thery can be found only in restricted places, sometimes only one single plant flowers each year.

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Fig. 8 Ophrys fuciflora

Bee orchid and other members of the genus Ophrys have evolved a peculiar flower shape which resembles that one of pollinator insects. As a consequence, insects are attracted by this appearance and the attractive scent they produce, and then perform copulation activities which allow them to touch the male rich in pollen organs. The pollen stick to their body which is afterward transfered to the female part of another flower they visit.

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Fig. 9 Ophrys apifera

Another species which has been recorded in this area, but was very hard to find, is Aceras anthropophorum (Fig. 10). It is also called Man orchid, due to the shape of the flowers that resemble a human figure. Having pale and inconspicuous coloursm, it is usually difficult to notice. Anyway, after years of search, it has been observed by me only in a single location in the area of Kamenjak, more precisely, at the very tip of the peninsula.

One really beautiful species is the monkey orchid (Orchis simia), Fig. 11, whose shape resembles a monkey is in this area not very common. Another less common Serapias species is Serapias cordigera, Fig. 12,  whose name derive form the latin cor=heart and ergere=carry, due to the heart-like shape of the labellum.

Most of the orchids disappears in June, when the pyramidal orchid or Anacamptis pyramidalis (Fig. 13) appears, whose size and colour contribute to the spring atmosphere. However, as the season gets dryer, most of  flowers end theyr life-cycle and enter into dormancy.

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Fig. 13 Spiranthes spiralis

Photos by Ingrid Ugussi Vukman