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Trabut’s Limodore at last!

Teresa Farino
28/06/2010 19:03:44

After some 15 years of searching the evergreen oak woodlands of Liébana every spring, I eventually located my first ever Trabut’s Limodores (Limodorum trabutianum) this May.

Posted in: Flora | Cantabria | Mainland Spain, Northern Spain

Trabut's Limodore - Limodorum trabutianum © Teresa FarinoTrabut's Limodore
Limodorum trabutianum
© Teresa Farino
Trabut’s Limodore is a Western Mediterranean orchid whose range includes both south-western Europe (Sicily, Spain, Portugal and France) and western North Africa (Morocco and Algeria). In Iberia, it occurs both on the mainland and on the Balearic island of Mallorca, although it is largely absent from north-western, central and eastern Spain, and in Portugal occurs only in the central region.

This curious orchid grows in clearings in coniferous and evergreen oak woodlands on base-rich soils, at altitudes of up to around 1,000m, flowering mainly between April and June. Trabut's Limodore can be distinguished from its much more widespread congener, the Violet Limodore (L. abortivum, by the straight (not articulated) labellum – as can be seen in the adjacent photo – and very short spur: just 0.5-3mm, as compared to 10-26mm in the latter species. The two species often grow together, and although both are obviously lacking in chlorophyll, it is still unclear as to whether they are saprophytic or parasitic on higher plants.

Violet Limodore - Limodorum abortivum © Teresa FarinoViolet Limodore
Limodorum abortivum
© Teresa Farino
This spring I spent several days exploring the Western Holm Oak (Quercus ilex ssp. ballota) woodlands above Lebeña, a village ensconced in the Desfiladero de La Hermida, Cantabria, which is a renowned locality for Trabut's Limodore. As Violet Limodores were flowering in extraordinary profusion this spring, I had an inkling that I might be lucky... When I eventually came across two plants of Trabut's Limodore, on 27 May, it was immediately apparent that they were different: much more slender than Violet Limodores, both in stature and flower parts. The fact that the flowers were distinctly brownish in colour is fairly incidental, however, as I gather they are more usually pale lilac.

To obtain the photograph above I had to risk life and limb by scrambling down a steep earthy bank, and even then I couldn’t approach close enough to touch the plants. That said, even in a photo taken from some distance, the very short spur is immediately obvious...

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