John and Gerry's    Orchids of Britain and Europe
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Gymnadenia odoratissima

This species was first described by Richard from Haut-Rhin, France in 1759 and its name refers to the particularly strong and characteristic vanilla scented flowers. It is a member of the G. conopsea group within the genus Gymnadenia.

G. odoratissima is far less frequent and widespread than its close relative G. conopsea but is nonetheless tolerant of a range of calcareous habitats where it can be found individually or in low densities but over a wide area. It can occur uncommonly in low lying damp meadows and on hillsides as far north as Belgium and the Baltic states but is most frequently encountered at higher altitudes from France as far east as Russia. In the European mountains it is a true Alpine, capable of enduring altitudes up to 2700 metres, keeping company with the hardiest of Vanilla Orchids.

It can often be found growing alongside the Fragrant Orchid, G. conopsea and hybridisation is frequent, sometimes forming populations with intermediate characteristics. Distinguishing the two species is reasonably straightforward but requires close inspection of the spur which in G. odoratissima is approximately the length of the ovary, a feature which can be seen clearly in photographs 10 and 12. In G. conopsea the spur is often in excess of twice this length and consequently more clearly visible. Typically G. odoratissima is a less sturdy plant with a shorter, laxer inflorescence of small flowers that are rarely as strongly coloured as those of its cousin. Colouration is however highly variable, ranging from white to yellow, pink and even mauve but invariably in subtle, pastel shades.

The pictures come from France, Italy and Austria, dating from the first weeks of July.