Regarding the existence of wild orchids, Piešťany can be ranked among the regions with the richest assortment of these plants in Slovakia. The orchidaceae, as we also call our orchids, are strikingly different from other plants not only in their appearance, but also in the way they live, which, when observed in detail, is actually quite unusual and sometimes outright fascinating. They vary in size - from just a few centimetres up to almost one metre.
Orchids have a special status in the plant kingdom. They grow all over the world, wherever people live, except in places permanently covered in ice. They grow and bloom underground, on the ground, and even in the trees. They thrive in a clean environment with uncontaminated air, which is why their existence is closely tied to moss and mushrooms, as they are also very sensitive to the quality of the environment. Some of our orchids from the Ophrys family have a unique and extra-ordinary cooperation with the animal world, as they are not self-pollinating. Their shape, colours and hair are similar to that of spiders, flies, bees, and bumble bees. If an insect lands on one of their flowers, they begin to act like a female, releasing secretions and odours similar to those released during copulation. The confused insect pollinates the flower and then the natural process of creating seeds in the sac passes life on to a new generation. Orchids from seeds take a very long time, sometimes decades, to develop in moss - as if like in a baby sling. In the end a tuberose, or root system, is created, which takes over the vital functions of the plant. Depending on the external conditions, an orchid can be very much like a perennial surviving in its habitat for many years.
Studies of orchids in Slovakia and Piešťany have been carried out by well-known botanists since the days of Ľ. Holuby, K. Domin and J. Dostál up until the present generation of dedicated professionals and amateurs. Discovery as well as the study and creation of conditions for the protection of these interestingly advanced plants have helped to shape the diversity and richness of our nature and its biodiversity.
Transplanting orchids into rock gardens around the house is a punishable offence and quite useless since changing the original soil – and this goes for all types of orchids – and the absence of the “nourisher”, which the orchid is dependent on, leads to the gradual death of the individual plant.
In recent years, we have observed in the Piešťany region an unprecedented increase in orchids. This has been reflected not only in a greater number of species, but also in the total quantity. This phenomenon may be related to climate change. A certain role may also be played by the relatively cleaner air, which has so far been maintained. But we also must bear in mind the fact that the currently ongoing botanical research, much more than in the past, has also had an impact. So now in a more complete and integrated form, we can present our natural treasures to the general public to enrich their knowledge and enjoyment. Looking for orchids out in the wild may grow into a popular hobby. At the same time, it's also just one more way towards a healthy lifestyle.
It is about 8-20 cm tall. The inflorescence is red, violet, pink, and white and measures 3 to 10 cm; it is thick with the typical shape of our orchids. It grows individually and in large populations almost everywhere in Europe. In some places it is critically endangered. This species blooms in early May in non-fertilized meadows and pastures with limy and acidic soil.
It is rarer as well as more beautiful than the previous type of orchid. The stem is 20-50 cm tall. The pyramid-shaped inflorescence is 3-8 cm and has a deep pink to lilac colour. It grows from the lowlands to the mountains on xerophilous meadows with a limy substrate. It blooms in June. It is widespread throughout Europe and North Africa.
The White Helleborine is a common type of orchid found in shady, coniferous forests, around the edges of bushy groves in limy soil. In Piešťany it is most often found in the southern part of the town where it forms the entire undergrowth. It is 20 - 50 cm tall. The thin, creamy, white flowers resemble a helmet. It blooms in May. It is widespread throughout Europe and Asia Minor.
The flowers are similar to the White Helleborine, but the leaves are thicker and spiky. It is less common and grows in beech and oak forests around Piešťany in limy or chalky soil. It blooms in May and is widespread throughout Europe, North Africa and Asia.
It is 25 – 50 cm tall. The shape of the flower is similar to its previous “sisters”, but the colour of the flowers is red. This is one of our most decorative orchids; it is scarce and grows in deciduous forests or around their edges in the foothills in limy soil. It blooms in May.
This is the earliest blooming of our orchids - usually in early May. It is a stocky little plant that grows to a height of 20 cm. It has yellow and purple flowers, whose colours may mix. It grows in the foothills and mowed mountain meadows throughout the entire undergrowth. It is a European species.
This is a new species in our region. It was quite rare 20 years ago, but in recent years can be found much more frequently. Its stem is thin and 30 cm tall. The flowers are whitish-green with a whitish lip and smaller than other orchids. It grows in soft and hard floodplain forests, in riparian vegetation with poplars and willows and around the edges of forest trails in the lowlands and hills. This species is widespread throughout central and western Europe. It was initially considered to be endemic to the former Czechoslovakia.
This orchid was first discovered and described in 1998 and is endemic to Slovakia. The plant is 20 - 40 cm tall and has one peculiarity - it blooms so-called cleistogamic, in other words, with closed flowers. Only rarely do the flowers open. It grows in beech and oak-hornbeam forests in limy soil.
This flower is our most common Helleborine. The stem grows to a height of 130 cm. It has a rich inflorescence of 15 - 40 widely opening flowers. The flowers are dark green to purple with distinct veins. It has a very wide ecological amplitude and grows along riverine plains, in floodplain forests and coniferous and deciduous forests as well as around their edges. It blooms in June and July. It is widespread throughout Europe and Asia.
This is one of our broad-leaved orchids that grows outside of the forest in swamps, bogs, and around spring sources from the lowlands to the foothills. It is the most beautiful of the the Helleborines with its large whitish-purple flowers. It is widespread throughout Europe and Western Asia. It blooms in June.
It is completely violet coloured and grows to a height of 80 cm. It grows alone or in bunches. It is a more robust plant with a thick stem and short purplish flowers. It grows in shady deciduous or mixed forests from highlands to higher mountainous area virtually throughout Europe.
The Tallos' Helleborine has recently spread into the poplar woods in the south of Piešťany, which are under attack by human activity, making them critically endangered. They were described only recently. The plant is 20 - 40 cm tall. The drooping, white-green flowers only slightly open. It grows in soft floodplain forests with poplars and willows. It is widespread only in Hungary and Slovakia. It blooms in July.
Marsh Fragrant Orchid
The Marsh Fragrant Orchid is a huge plant from 25 to 100 cm tall with wide, egg-shaped leaves and a thick and up to 20 cm long inflorescence with pink-purple flowers. It grows around limestone springs and flora-rich bogs at the beginning of hilly areas. It is known only in Europe. It appears in Slovakia only in scattered areas. The flowers are very attractive and fragrant, which is why they must be protected from being picked for bouquets. It blooms in July.
It was discovered only recently in our country. It is the most bizarre orchid growing to a height of 100 cm. The purple flowers with a lip of up to 9 cm long are relatively thick; there are as many as 50 on the stem. It is very rare in Slovakia and can be found in the forest steppes, sunny woods, and limy, skeletal soil of Central and South-eastern Europe. It blooms in July.
The Violet Limodore is a saprophytic orchid parasitizing other plants. It can be found in limy soils. It is entirely dark purple, bald, and grows up to 90 cm. The blue-purple flowers are up to 25 cm large. It blooms in June in sunny deciduous forests in limy soil.
The Eggleaf Twayblade is of all our orchids the least dependent on microbial nourishment through other organisms. The plant is 20 - 60 cm tall and has atypical flowers with a lip, more like a beard, up to 10 mm long. Its 20 - 80 yellow-green flowers bloom in May. The Twayblade grows in meadows in deciduous forests and around the edges of forest throughout Europe. It is quite widespread in our country.
It reaches a height of up to 25 cm. The inflorescence of pink flowers is very thick, literally jam-packed. It blooms in May in dry, sunny meadows, scrubland, around the edges of forests in limy soil. It is widespread throughout Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.
The Bird's-nest Orchid is the most abundant species of the orchid family. Its waxy, brown stem reaches a height of 15 - 30 cm growing out of a thick, short tangle of roots and parasitizing on other plants. It blooms in May in shady deciduous and mixed forests from the lowlands to mountainous heights. It is widespread throughout all of Europe.
The Holuby's or Bumble-bee Orchid is a bizarre orchid resembling a bumble-bee. It is very rare growing along the northern outskirts of Piešťany. The stem is 15 - 40 cm high and its pinkish or purplish flowers have a combination of brown lips with traces of pink. It blooms in May in dry, poor meadows in the hills.
(Orchis mascula ssp.signifera)
The Early-purple Orchid is frequently found in mowed meadows, pastures, and in sunny deciduous forests such as those in the Výtoky region. The stem is 20 - 50 cm high with dark purple spots on the base. The inflorescence is not so dense with pink flowers up to 2 cm large. It blooms in May. It is widespread throughout Europe.
This is a rather common species in our country growing in the limy soil of groomed meadows and pastures. The stem is 20 - 50 cm tall and holds 20 - 50 light pink flowers with a lip of up to 15 mm and a helmet (hence the name of the plant). It is in full bloom in May and can be found throughout Europe and Asia Minor.
This type of beautiful orchid appears in April and is the first pale-yellow flower to bloom in our country. The plant reaches a height of 20 - 40 cm and its leaves are shiny, green with a distinct fragrance. This plant is mostly found in forests such as Havran, and on groomed meadows in limy soil.
This more robust orchid grows to a height of 80 cm. It has large, purple-brown flowers. Its inflorescence reaches up to 25 cm. It blooms in May in sunny deciduous forests, the sides of scrubland and sometimes en masse (the village of Sokolovce). It is widespread throughout Central and Southern Europe, to the east of the Crimea, and the Caucasus.
Lesser Butterfly Orchid
(Platanthera bifolia ssp. bifolia)
It has a ribbed bald stem which grows up to 50 cm. The white flowers are relatively large - up to 25 mm- and sparsely spaced in the 10 to 20 cm inflorescence. There are 2 leaves at the base of the stem. It blooms in May and grows on both dry and damp meadows, in sunny deciduous forests, scrubland in acidic soil. It can be found throughout Europe.
An interesting peculiarity of orchids is how often they cross. This can be seen mainly in areas which have vital and thriving populations of intersecting and crossing species. The rarity and beauty of orchids is one reason to protect, not just the individual flowers, but their habitats as well. Whether or not these strange and beautiful plants are preserved for future generations will depend on our ability to appreciate their value, which is hidden in nature.
Author and photographer: Ing. František Bača