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Gymnadenia widderi

This species was first described as Nigratella widderi by Teppner and Klein from Styrie, Austria in 1985 and was named in honour of F. J. Widder, a noted 20th century Austrian botanist. It has now been incorporated into the seventeen strong G. nigra group within the genus Gymnadenia.

This is perhaps the rarest of the European Vanilla Orchids, being known from just a handful of disjunct sites in Styrie (Austria), Bavaria (Germany) and Abruzzo (Italy). This fragmented distribution suggests the species may well occur elsewhere in as yet undiscovered sites. G. widderi forms small, low density and extremely loose colonies at altitudes of between 1500 and 2200 metres, where it grows in short calcareous grassland. Being intolerant of suffocating vegetation, it is totally dependent on timely seasonal grazing and as with several other of the Vanilla Orchids, is an IUCN red listed species whose future is threatened by alpine recreational development and changes in pastoral practice.

G. widderi is one of the apomictic members of the the group and as such is not hugely variable, being a uniform pale pink with buds that are slightly darker than the flowers and which do not fade greatly with maturity. It is a small orchid with a hemispherical inflorescence that is approximately as wide as it is long. The species is known to grow alongside G. austriaca, G. rhellicani, G. minor and G. miniata, but none that are sufficiently similar to cause any confusion with identification.

G. widderi is one of the earliest flowering Vanilla Orchids, commencing in June, although at higher altitudes it can still be in bloom by mid August. The illustrations were recorded in the first week of July on the Trenchtling plateau, Styrie and the Shneeberg Massif, Lower Austria.