The wild orchids like all wildlife are suffering a catastrophic decline or even extinction in their natural habitats.
The recent agricultural revolution has happened very quickly for many plant species to adapt.
Orchids are mainly associated with poor soils and are VERY sensitive to soil changes, especially those covered by fertilizers. They remain in inaccessible places and survive in populations which are too weak to respond to the variations of climatic changes.
The decline of agriculture and the abandoning of traditional rural activities like grazing on a NOT improved pasture means that these areas are no longer kept up.
These areas become unsuitable and are covered with growth of scrubs and trees which does nothing to ensure habitat diversity.
The exploitation of forests by the tourist industry has opened routes into forests and mountains.
After the destruction of natural areas caused by industrial civilization, picking a bunch of flowers seems like a very inoffensive occupation but it always depends on the origin and the rarity of the particular flower.
“Cypripedium calceolous” (“The Lady’s slipper”) has been picked for a long time and was sold in markets as a cut flower. It has completely disappeared from some areas.
“Orchis” and “Dactylorhiza” have attractive colours and they are also picked.
There are other more worrying problems concerning the wild orchids :
Herbarium collections – A scientific necessity, but unfortunately it provides an excuse behind impulsive collectors.
These collectors are very active whenever rare plants are involved.
Even well-known sites have been cleared of very rare plants by “scientists” preoccupied with completing their collections or by groups of students led by naive botanists who use the plants as a quick way to make
up an interesting herbarium collection.
Photographers often put their art before the survival of their subjects making their own contribution to the destruction of threatened sites.
When they find a plant in conditions which are inconvenient, they dig it up, put it in better light and sometimes they take it to their house to make it easier to photograph!
If the plant is only a bud they will transplant it into their own garden to take only one photograph when the flowers open!
Another threat to the survival of wild orchids is the pressure on them from horticulture. Brightening up a garden with plants from the wild is still today very much alive!
Some amateur gardeners will not hesitate to steal protected plants from nature reserves!!!
Even when transplanted into a pot or in the garden, most orchids when removed from their usual habitat will not survive, therefore encouraging the gardener to replace them again from the wild.
Professional horticulturists do not hesitate to include European orchids in their catalogues.
They cover themselves by stating that they are selling (especially for legally protected species) plants which were raised from seed in the nursery, but unfortunately very often this is not the case…
The most serious danger to the Mediterranean orchid is caused by using the rhizomes for food.
The rhizomes of the “Serapiadinae” were used all over Europe as an aphrodisiac tonic!
The new swollen storage organs full of starch are collected. These are the very organs which ensure the continuation of the plants from year to year.
In Turkey they still now collect, dry and grind these into flour and use it as “salep” to thicken and flavour ice-cream and milky drinks!!!
The rhizomes are dug up in Turkey when the plants are in flower, then they are dried and processed and sold in local markets.
They are sold to wholesalers who sell them again or export them.
More value is added at each stage which makes it risky to intervene by replacing salep with a substitute which would be easy to produce.
These collectors produce almost 50 tonnes of salep. It takes about 1,000 to 3,000 rhizomes to produce 1 kilogram of salep.
Spectacular species like “Comperia comperiana” are close to extinction in Turkey. Other species are almost never seen outside cemeteries where supervision prevents their collection. The survival of many European orchids relies totally in the short term protection measures.
The threats to European orchids come from many and varied sources and cover a whole range of factors, social and economic practices with horrific consequences for wildlife.
The orchidologists’ code of conduct is made up by the following rules :
-Minimise trampling at the orchid sites
-Pick ONLY the smallest possible sample if and when necessary
-BAN herbarium collecting
-Cause the least possible damage when taking photographs
-ABSOLUTELY FORBID ALL transplanting from the wild
-ABSOLUTELY FORBID ALL trade in European orchids
By Aleko Damaskinos