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Photospot: Epipactis danubialis

The Honeyguide group in the Danube Delta in June 2014 was taken to look for a recently-named and rarely photographed species of orchid.

We took many photographs and a specimen has been sent by Ibis leader Florin Palade to a botanist at Cluj-Napoca University in Romania, and parts were then forwarded to the University of Vienna for molecular analysis.

The identification noted here should be regarded as preliminary, to be confirmed (see note at bottom of page).

Epipactis danubialis: rather closed, downward pointing flowers in a gloomy wood make photos tricky. All photos taken 9th June 2014.

A newly defined species

The orchid, as we understand it, has a naturally rather local distribution, confined to the Danube Delta, and is overlooked and rare due its limited range rather than being directly threatened. Hence it seems valuable to show some pictures, without revealing its exact location beyond saying it was in the forest at Letea within the Danube Delta.

Epipactis danubialis

Epipactis danubialis — the Danube helleborine — is one of several orchids in the Epipactis leptochila (narrow-lipped helleborine) group, mostly in eastern Europe.

It was recently (1989) split as a separate species. It's far from alone in that respect: there are several recently described helleborine species, including Epipactis sancta, the Lindisfarne helleborine, in the UK.


A more fully-flowering plant with, by chance, one flower at a sideways angle.

Below: the lower part of a different plant, to show stem leaves.

The Honeyguide visit

The previous week some Dutch botanists, travelling with Ibis, had discovered, or re-discovered, this group of the Danube Delta helleborine Epipactis danubialis. For us, they proved surprisingly easy to find, in the drier parts of moderately open areas in the woodland.

The orchids were mostly in bud, but a few of the pale, downward-pointing flowers were out. The triangular shape of the flower's lip of this group of species is clear.

One photographic option was to hold flowers at a sensible angle, such as here (the photo on the right is a cropped close-up of the photo on the left). Another was to take photos by lying on the damp ground against the woodland canopy and the sky — see right.

I counted 14 flowering spikes (group member Dorothy counted 30), plus the specimen taken for further botanical scrutiny. We await the verdict of the experts!

Update, May 2016: The University of Vienna was unable to say with certainty if it is Epipactis danubialis or Epipactis persica. The identification challenge continues!

More nature notes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Honeyguide's Danube Delta holiday

There are many books on orchids but this is the book: Orchids of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East by Pierre Delforge (A&C Black) (click here for more info).

In Delforge, there is a description and a drawing of Epipactis danubialis, but no photo.

Orchids are heavily studied, new information comes to light and papers published, which often impact on taxonomy: how species are named and, often, divided.

Nine-spotted (syntomid) moth Syntomis phegea

We were tasked to take photographs, which was not as easy as it sounds for this green species in a woodland.

Initially we were a little distracted by an attractive day-flying syntomid moth (above), but also by biting insects.

There was also violet birdsnest orchid Limodorum abortivum at the same place, though that had finished flowering.

Florin taking photos

Florin taking photos.

Delforge (see above) gives the synonym Epipactis atrorubens subsp. danubialis.

E. atrorubens is the dark red helleborine: the apparent link with this species that the base of the stem of E. danubialis is reddish.

This is slightly apparent in the plant above; in others it was less clear.

Lying on the ground and looking up.

Also from the Danube Delta 2014

Whiskered tern photos and movies.

Dark Spreadwing photofeature.

Photographs on this page by Chris Durdin.

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