Thursday, 21 June 2012

The Improbable Ladies Slipper Orchid

The amazing Ladies Slipper Orchid Cypripedum calceolus is in bloom (Usually the first half of June but later this year due to a cold snap in May) in the Tena Valley near Sallent de Gallego.   This site, one of three in the Pyrenees,was first discovered in the 1980´s by a french school teacher who glimpsed them from a bus while on a school trip!

On our nature trips in June we always go for a look at this super rare and flamboyant orchid. 

All that show is designed for pollination.   Bees  of the Andrena family are attracted to the flower.  They perch on the edge of the the big yellow sac and slip into it.  Once inside they can´t exit the way they have arrived as the inside of the sac is slippery and has an overhang preventing exit.  However the flower has a translucent ´window´ which the bee heads for, climbing up some hairs and into a narrow tunnel where it picks up and/or deposits pollen on the orchid´s pollen sacs. Then the bee squeezes out of the tunnel and flies away.  A complex process!  For a great explanation of how Ladies Slipper pollination happens see the excellent blog 

The Ladies Slipper also replicates itself vegetatively and at Sallent there are many plants over quite a large area.  It takes about 9 years from when the plant first emerges to when it first flowers.  The orchid lives about 30 years though they can live much longer.  There is an example in Estonia that is over 190 years old.

The site is guarded during flowering season.  In the valley are found many more orchids and higher up towards the Portalet pass the alpine flowers are magnificent and easy to see near the road.  The geology of the area - metamorhic transition zone between limestone and granite favours a big diversity of flower species.  There are some great hiking routes in the valley once you get away from the ugly Formigal ski resort.

No comments: