Monday, February 17, 2014

The first blooming orchids and other wild flowers of 2014 in northern Spain

Deze post in het Nederlands: Klik hier.

To my great pleasure, last February 8 I have been able to see the first flowering orchids of the Cantabrian Mountains of this year. Because this winter is actually relatively mild and damp, these orchids have appeared  more than a week earlier than last year. Off course these orchids were not yet in full bloom, but on the lower part of the spikes many orchids had already several flowers. The orchid  I am talking about is the giant orchid or Himantoglossum robertianum. The name giant orchid is due to its large size and great length, sometimes with a height of about 1 meter. When an orchid is not blooming, it is often very difficult to determine the exact species or even the genus it belongs to. Nevertheless, with some practical experience it is possible to distinguish some species, using characteristics related to leaf color and leaf shape, which can be recognized but are often difficult to explain.


Naturally we first went to our special places where the likelihood of success is greatest . Soon the first orchid was found, already with a budding flower spike. The giant orchid can be distinguished by its special color green, and the overall shape of the leaves.

Detail of the budding spike.

The next orchid was this beautiful specimen with already some flowers on its spike.

The flowers of the giant orchid or Himantoglossum robertianum are relatively large. The flower has the form of a human with two arms, two legs and a helmet, which is also the case with several other orchids.

This photo is from last year, just to show how they will be within a week or so and this one is only about half its maximum length.

The giant orchid was not the only flower that was already in bloom. The following series of pictures shows some common plants that in Northern Spain may usually bloom already in January or December. The picture above shows a flower of the lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) in this case with a double number of petals.

For the ivy-leaved toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis) it is not uncommon to bloom in winter. This plant grows preferably in a rocky environment .

The spotted deadnettle (Lamium maculatum) is generally present, actually all winter.

The stinking hellebore (Helleboris foetidus) distinguishes itself from the green hellebore (Helleboris viridis, following picture), among other characteristics by having a stem with leaves and for its more closed flowers.

The green hellebore has a greenish flower, such as the Latin name (Helleboris viridis) already indicates.

The purple gromwell (Lithodora diffusa or Lithospermum diffusum), although really a wide spread plant, flowers in January mostly only along the limestone coast of Asturias.

This common primrose (Primula acaulis or P. vulgaris) seems to come right out of a garden center. This is, however, one of the most common winter flowers that brighten the landscape.

The greater stitchwort (Stellarea holostea) is a plant that blooms mainly along roads and trails. Can already be very exuberantly in March.

Who knows this tiny little flower? This is the well known chickweed (Stellaria media). 

We even found a Persian speedwell (Veronica persica). This plant was growing some 50 meters from the shore, where it never freezes.

And finally the hairy violet (Viola hirta), a commonly flowering plant in winter.