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Vol. 11(2), pp. 10-20The McAllen International Orchid Society JournalFebruary 2010

An Orchid Detour on the Camino de Santiago

Eric Olsen

Author's Note: This online version of the article is somewhat different from the printed version. The text from the caption on Fig. 2 that was mistakenly inserted into the main text has been restored to its correct position.

Introduction

Fig. 1. On the Camino de Santiago, between Estella and Villamayor de Monjardín, Navarra, Spain. 27 June 2008.

Fig. 2. Map of the Way of St. James (El Camino de Santiago) through Northern Spain. This is one of several routes to Santiago de Compostela. Since this is the route followed through Spain by most French pilgrims in medieval times, it is known as "El Camino Francés". In various of the figures below, there are village and city names that do not appear on this map. However, they all have the province listed. In most cases, the name of the province is the same as the capital city of that province. So, for example, the city of León is the capital of the province León. The exception to this that is relevant to this article is that the city of Pamplona is the capital of Navarra. This information should enable the reader to identify the general area where photographs were taken.

Two summers ago, my wife and I stepped out of the early twenty-first century rat race and embarked on a journey. Our plan was to spend five weeks walking about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) following the Camino de Santiago from the French border, across most of northern Spain, to the city of Santiago de Compostela. We would bring only what we could carry in our packs. Anything electronic was forbidden, with the sole exception of my new digital camera. The intent was to cast off the most intrusive trappings of the modern world and embrace the physical reality of this moment and this place. Each day we would head off into the unknown, observe the landscape as it slowly unfolded, and feel the wind, the rain, and the sun.

Plans have a way of going awry. By the time the first week had passed, we discovered that there was no way that we were going to walk approximately 30 kilometers each day, day after day, as required by our schedule. Nor did we want to. In contrast to some of the people we met - like the "Scottish Express" (a fellow on an extremely tight schedule scurrying from Geneva to Santiago to raise money for charity) and the "American Runners" (a couple who threw themselves into conquering the Camino with an intensity that I had previously seen only in young MBAs and salesmen chasing the next deal) - we intended to enjoy village cafes, panoramic views, historical sites, and lengthy conversations. Roses, should we find any, would be admired and smelled. Detours beckoned. We followed them.

One detour did not take us too far off our path, but did frequently take up some time. This was the pleasant discovery of terrestrial orchids strewn here and there all along the Camino. While we were not equipped at the time to identify the species of the orchids we found, we were able to take pictures. The remainder of this article is a selection of some of the orchid pictures we took and our best efforts to identify them.

Anacamptis

Fig. 3. Anacamptis pyramidalis. Northeast of Larrasoaña, Navarra, Spain. 21 June 2008.

Fig. 4. Anacamptis pyramidalis. Northeast of Pamplona, Navarra, Spain. 22 June 2008.

This identification was probably the easiest of all for us. Once we had established the correct genus, the species was not a problem since Delforge lists only Anacamptis pyramidalis (Delforge, 276-7).

Dactylorhiza

Fig. 5. Dactylorhiza fuchsii (possibly). Near Roncesvalles, Navarra, Spain. 20 June 2008.

Fig. 6. Dactylorhiza fuchsii (possibly). Near Roncesvalles, Navarra, Spain. 20 June 2008.

Fig. 7. Dactylorhiza fuchsii (possibly); detail of leaf. Near Roncesvalles, Navarra, Spain. 19 June 2008.

Fig. 8. Dactylorhiza caramulensis (possibly). Near Acebo, León, Spain. 8 July 2008.

Fig. 9. Dactylorhiza caramulensis (possibly). Near Acebo, León, Spain. 8 July 2008.

Of all of our identifications, these are probably the most questionable. Without digging up a plant to examine the roots- something hard to do when all you have is a photo, it is hard to sort out whether the genus is Dactylorhiza (finger-like roots) or Orchis (more rounded roots). So, we were left trying to sift through a couple of hundred species between the two genera, trying to sort things out from other characteristics. After accounting for details of color, shape, and place, we settled on two plausible identifications: Dactylorhiza fuchsii (Delforge, 228) and Dactylorhiza caramulensis (Delforge, 241). Either or both of these could well be Dactylorhiza maculata (Delforge, 238-40) or even Dactylorhiza ericetorum (Delforge, 235).

Himantoglossum

Fig. 10. Himantoglossum hircinum. Northeast of Pamplona, Navarra, Spain. 22 June 2008.

Fig. 11. Himantoglossum hircinum. Northeast of Pamplona, Navarra, Spain. 22 June 2008.

Fig. 12. Himantoglossum hircinum. Northeast of Pamplona, Navarra, Spain. 22 June 2008.

This was another easy-to-identify genus due to the very distinct flowers. The species became a question of matching Delforge's pictures, his notes on place, and closely examining the cleft in the tip of the median lobe of the lip (visible at the bottom of the third photo here) and comparing it with Delforge's chart (p. 351). We decided to go with Himantoglossum hircinum (Delforge, 357). After reading the description in the field guide and finding mention of a "fetid" scent associated with this species, we realized that while we were "stopping to smell the roses" on our trip, we had neglected to smell the orchids.

Ophrys

Fig. 13. Ophrys apifera (probably). Northeast of Pamplona, Navarra, Spain. 22 June 2008.

This is another hugely varied genus. Nearly half of Delforge's field guide is dedicated to sorting out the various complexes and species. In any case, due to the shape and color of the lateral sepals and other details, we focused on Ophrys apifera (Delforge, 447-8).

Platanthera

Fig. 14. Platanthera bifolia. Near Rabanal del Camino, León, Spain. 7 July 2008.

Fig. 15. Platanthera bifolia. Near Rabanal del Camino, León, Spain. 7 July 2008.

Fig. 16. Platanthera bifolia. Near Rabanal del Camino, León, Spain. 7 July 2008.

Platanthera is a genus with a small number of species listed in Delforge. As a result, it was fairly easy to pick out Platanthera bifolia (Delforge, 140-1) as the prime suspect.

References

Brierley, John, A Pilgrim's Guide to the Camino de Santiago (Camino Guides: 2007).

Delforge, Pierre, Orchids of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East (Timber Press: 2006).

Gitlitz, David M. and Linda Kay Davidson, The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago (St. Martin's Griffin: 2000).

Harris, James G. and Melinda Woolf Harris, Plant Identification Terminology 2nd ed. (Spring Lake Publishing: 2001).

Copyright © 2010 Eric Olsen