Phylum: Magnoliophyta - Class: Liliopsida - Order: Orchidales - Family: Orchidaceae
This unmistakeable orchid grows to over a metre in height. Although widespread throughout the Mediterranean region it is localised and rare except in Rhodes, where it can occur in particularly large colonies. In recent years, plants have started to appear in France and it may be that the higher temperatures resulting from global warming enable the Giant Orchid to extend its territory. We have seen this orchid on roadside verges in the Cevennes at high altitudes.
Everything about this orchid is big, from the robust stem, the large leaves that clasp the stem, and the massive flowers that are arranged in a dense spike. The strongly fragrant flowers are very variable in colour, from white-and-green combinations to dark pink and purple with strong lip markings. The lip is divided into three lobes, with the central lobe being subdivided again.
Predominantly a Mediterranean species this orchid is showing signs of extending its territory north as climate change and warmer temperatures have an impact on our wildlife.
Usually growing in open ground with alkaline substrate, the Giant Orchid can also appear in open woodland and old olive groves; it likes plenty of sunshine.
This orchid flowers very early in the year - from the end of February to the beginning of April. The specimens shown here were found in Crete. Other countries were the Giant Orchid occurs include Cyprus, Spain, Portugal and Italy, to name but a few.
The genus name Himantoglossum means 'strap tongue' and refers to the strap-like labellum (lip) of the flower. The specific epithet robertianum probably honours the late 18th century/early 19th century French botanist G N Robert.
The Plant List
Pierre Delforge (2005) Orchids of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East; A&C Black
If you found this information helpful, we are sure you would also like books on the Wild Orchids of Wales, of The Burren, and of the Algarve. Author-signed copies are available here...