We were up early in the morning of our second day on Rhodes, keen to make the best we could of our time on the island, and fired up by the previous day’s strong start to our orchid hunting. It had rained heavily again overnight, and I walked out of my room to find the oranges on the trees that shaded the windows dripping with water. Some fruit had been knocked to the floor – I took those for a mid-morning snack.
Our first stop was just outside the village, at the site I’d checked the previous evening. The main target here was a hybrid orchid, the hairy lovechild of two Ophrys orchids – Mirror O.speculum and King Ferdinand’s O.regis-ferdinandii. Many orchid hybrids are strikingly beautiful things, combining the best elements of both parents.
With the best will in the world, this ugly bug was not one of those hybrids! We preferred the relative elegance of the many King Ferdinand’s Orchids we found in the area – some growing at the very roadside. O.rheinholdii was numerous here too, also growing at the edge of the road where no other flowers dared tread.
We explored the immediate surroundings, mainly searching for a Mirror Orchid in good condition, or Ophrys mammosa – Matt reported having seen these here in the past. We could find neither, but more O.ferrum-equinum were a delight on the scree-like hillside, and I found our first lush examples of Ophrys heldreichii ssp.polyxo.
We headed towards the coast, altering our plans according to the weather forecast – it was due to be dry there today, if not later in the week, so we needed to make the most of the weather window. The journey was through clouds of Painted Lady butterflies, migrating north-west across the island into Europe, and crossing the road in vast clouds of hundreds per minute. It was a remarkable sight, and distracted us from sporadic roadside Black-headed Buntings and Woodchat Shrikes.
An area of sand dune habitat was not particularly productive for orchids, with just Ophrys iricolor to show for our efforts, but abounded with wildflowers – Yiannis was in his element here, calling out new species after species. I had been looking forward to the site for the endemic Campanula rhodia I remembered carpeting the sandy ground and, sure enough, it was in full bloom again this year.
A nearby hillside covered in prickly, scratchy garrigue habitat was more productive for orchids, with more O.heldreichii scattered amongst many Pyramidal Orchids Anacamptis pyramidalis and a handful of Pink Butterfly Orchids A.papilionacea. The latter were new for several of our group, whilst everyone was surprised by how pale the former were compared to their dark pink British counterparts.
We had lunch at a nearby old chapel, sitting on the low walls in the warm sunshine to enjoy another buffet of delicious Greek cold snacks. I was delighted to return here as, the previous year, our visit had coincided with a torrential rainstorm that made orchid-hunting a fleeting experience for the guides only while our guests sheltered in the vehicles… an orchid hunt that revealed that the main target, Ophrys cretica ssp.beloniae, had finished flowering before we arrived. This year was a very different story indeed.
Many plants of O.cretica were in full bloom, sporting petals and sepals the colour of a ripe bruise and marvellous dark chocolate brown and silver lips. Amongst them were more King Ferdinand’s Orchids and our first tongue orchids of the tour, Serapias candica, with lascivious pointed burgundy tongues hanging from their blooms.
Nearby, underneath the shelter of a stand of bushes we discovered a colony of Ophrys cornutula, each flower with long, pointed horns rearing from the sides of the lip. If that weren’t enough for one lunch break, there was also another Anacamptis species, A.coriophora ssp.fragrans, a beautiful wildflower with the unlovely English name of Bug Orchid.
Our final destination, where we would spend much of the afternoon exploring, was a favourite hillside of ours near to the coastal settlement of Prasonisi. If it had been productive in 2018 on my first visit to the island, it was an orchid wonderland the following year and, during our time quartering the hill, the discoveries came thick and fast.
Most unexpected of these were some Violet Limodores Limodorum abortivum growing in most atypical habitat – we normally associate them with woodland, yet here they were growing on an exposed hillside. More typical fare for this sort of garrigue habitat were the many Ophrys species we encountered. At the roadside we found more O.iricolor but, as we headed uphill, we found countless Ophrys parvula, a very subtle and small species indeed, and easily overlooked until one got one’s eye in.
To everyone’s delight, there were more O.cretica growing here, amongst nodding stands of the delightful small, chartreuse endemic fritillaries Fritillaria rhodia. These were not, however, what I was looking for. During the previous year I had found an isolated colony of a dramatic, large-flowered and colourful Ophrys on an otherwise unremarkable area of the hill, and it was these I hoped to re-find for my guests.
I’d taken the precaution of recording a GPS location for them, so was able to use my phone to direct me within 25 metres of them – the phone signal was dismally poor, so I could only rely on an approximate leg-up from technology! It was enough, though – a little scouring of the immediate area revealed first one and then a dozen more Ophrys halia, much to the delight of the group once they’d made the long walk up to my isolated perch high above the road.
We’d recorded 14 species of orchid today, bringing our overall score up to 23 species in the space of two gentle-paced days. We could rush around and chase more numbers, but where would the fun be in that? We’d got time on our hands and wanted to appreciate what we were seeing, allowing time for photography and searching for more plants – everyone was finding something, to our collective delight.
It’s always hard to pick a favourite, but those O.cretica today took some beating…
NB – I should be leading the Orchid Odyssey tour in Rhodes for Greenwings this week – due to the coronavirus outbreak that’s been regretfully postponed for 2020. Instead, I’d like to invite you all to join me on a virtual orchid-hunting tour there, with daily posts throughout the week. I hope you enjoy them.