Orchids of Iceland

Plants belonging to the orchid family have small but nicely shaped flowers. These plants are perennial and grow best on humus-rich soils. The seeds are small and require a special fungus to germinate. In the Tropics orchids are commonly epiphytes along with bromeliads. Some orchids are parasitic having little or no chlorophyll. One of the orchids growing in Iceland, Coralroot Orchid (Corallorhiza trifida), lacks chlorophyll.

In Iceland you find six species of orchids growing on good calcareous soils. Some of the orchids, e. g., Common Twayblade (Listeria ovata) have yellowish-green flowers. Common Twayblade is characterized by two opposite large egg shaped leaves. Lesser Twayblade (Listeria cordada) also has two opposite leaves, while being a more delicate plant than Common Twayblade. Lesser Twayblade carries small reddish brown flowers.

The Northern Butterfly Orchid (Platanthera hyberborea) carries a spike of pale green flowers and lanceolate stem-clasping leaves. Iceland is the only place in Europe where this species occurs. In Iceland this species grows on lush heath and thrives best in good shelter. The Northern Butterfly Orchid grows in neighbouring Greenland and in diverse habitat in northern and western parts of North America.

The White Frog Orchid (Pseudorchis albida) is widespread across Europe from Ireland south to the Balkans, and as far north as Scandinavia. In Iceland this species grows in diverse vegetation on heaths, mires and grasslands.

Orchids are associated with fertility in Icelandic folk-tradition and this is quite true for Heath Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza maculata) with its characteristic roots. It grows in woodlands as well as in semi-wet vegetation.

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