The first blooming orchids we will be able to observe at the end of this winter in the north of Spain can be found in the autonomous region of Asturias, located in the milder parts of the northern Cantabrian Mountains. We are talking about the giant orchid ( Himantoglossum robertianum, formerly classified as Barlia robertiana) and the somber bee-orchid ( Ophrys fusca ), also called the dark bee-orchid. The giant orchid will already be blooming in the second half of February and most of the somber bee-orchids will flower in March. The giant orchid is certainly not a common orchid in the Cantabrian Mountains, but we still managed to locate some groups with up to 20 flowering specimens. I know that this is nothing compared with certain regions in Portugal where I´ve seen literally thousands of giant orchids, but I´m very glad we have some of them around in our region too. Of the Ophrys fusca we have found a very promising area right on the seashore with hundreds of plants in bloom and also some hitherto unknown smaller populations scattered around Asturias, at least unknown according to the specialised literature.
The giant orchid is indeed a very large orchid, with a height of up to 1 meter, a big rosette and broad leaves. The picture shows clearly the sheathing leaves which wrap around the stem. This orchid is hard to confuse with other orchids, also because of its large size and the very early time of flowering. For example, in Portugal I've seen lots of blooming specimens in the first half of February.
The flowering spike has a large number of flowers that are close to each other.
The individual flowers can reach up to 4 cm in size, of which the lip alone can be more than 2 cm.
The green striped sepals and upper petals are more or less bent around the gynostemium (reproductive structure of orchids), of which the stigma is clearly visible. For more information about the morphology of an orchid flower see the post "Structure of an orchid flower."
One of the typical habitat of the giant orchid, a rocky and sunny edge of a footpath. There are four orchids with spikes and several rosettes without them.
A small group of somber bee-orchids, all of which just have come into blooming.
Side view of the flower of an Ophrys fusca. The groove in the upper part of the lip is clearly visible. The lip also has hairlike structures that imitate the body of a female bee.
These somber bee-orchids stand in the middle of a path, and when I returned a week later they were all eaten by some goats.