An interview with Dr. Jean Koenig

(graduated from The University Paris XI (DEA d’Amélioration des Plantes), Vice Président of the
"Société Française d’Orchidophilie" and Président of the Auvergne Orchid Society. Actually scientist at the National Agronomy Institute and curator of the Cereal National Gene Bank)

ON: Dr. Jean Koenig, how long have you been studying orchids?
JK: I have been studying orchids since more than 50 years. I have got the virus very early. My parents were interested in orchids and I used to observe some sites with them as I was a young boy.

ON: How many orchids genera and species occur in France?
JK: We have 27 genera and more than 160 taxas. In my opinion, not all are full species.

ON: In your lecture, you said that the orchids looked less numerous 50 years ago. Could you explain why?
JK: About the number of orchids from 50 years ago till now, I think that we have now a better knowledge of different genera which allow to distinguish more species than before with new criteria of distinction. Some 50 years ago for instance we had less than 20 Ophrys species in France. We have now more than 50 Ophrys species due to evolution of taxonomic criteria.

ON: In your opinion the France laws protecting orchids are enough? How those laws work?
JK: In France, protection lists exist at 2 levels : at national level, 20 species (some are now distributed into several taxas) are on the red list. At regional level 77 additional species figure on the protection list: for Auvergne, 10 more species have been listed.
But this isn’t enough: sites have to be protected too. The European regulation Natura 2000 which should allow to protect rich areas in term of biodiversity is being worked out very slowly.

ON: Which are the most endangered species of orchids in France?
JK: Most endangered species in France are now the species growing in humid areas, especially in the low altitude humid areas.
Because more and more areas are dried up for agriculture. Let us name some endangered Dactylorhiza species: D. incarnata, D. praetermissa, D. sphagnicola, orchis species: Anacamptis (=Orchis) palustris, Anacamptis (=Orchis) laxiflora, or other species : Spiranthes aestivalis.
Dactylorhiza incarnata L.
Anacamptis palustris
(Pridgeon & Chase)
Anacamptis laxiflora
(Pridgeon & Chase)
Spiranthes aestivalis L.

Cypripedium calceolus L.
The most famous European orchid, emblema of the French Orchid Society (SFO), the Ladyslipper (Cypripedium calceolus L.) is also protected but may be not so endangered anymore. This species grows mainly in the alpine region.
Serapias species are not so common in France and then following species are getting some regional protection: Serapias lingua which is present in the south part of France is sometimes getting rare because of the drying of its habitats.
Serapias cordigera, is growing on the Mediterranean region, quite frequent on the acid soils.
The following species are more common even if they got sometimes a regional protection status.

Serapias lingua

Serapias cordigera

Ophrys apifera L.

Ophrys insectifera L
Among Ophrys species, bee orchid (ophrys apifera L.) is one of the most frequent French orchids which grows on the whole territory even colonizing the private lawns. Ophrys insectifera L. is not so frequent maybe because of its small size but present in nearly the whole territory.

ON: Is there a species which is already extinct in the habitat?
JK: Apparently only one species disappeared in the last 20 years: Anacamptis (=Orchis) collina which was endemic from south France and remains now in foreign countries.

ON: You also said that French Orchid mapping has been set up since more than 20 years. Who are doing this map?
JK: Orchid mapping is a very important task undertaken by SFO with financial help from the Ministry of Ecology. Every department or district has a correspondent (cartographe in French) who coordinates the prospections and computerizes the data which are sent to the national level. National maps will be built up by the National Natural History Museum.

ON: Which are the conclusions you have got with this mapping?
JK: Conclusions haven’t been validated till now because all regions haven’t been completely updated.

ON: In what way you think the climatic changes and direct human action caused variations on the population?
JK: Some species are in extension, while others are more rare due probably to the earlier evocated threat on humid zones. Some species area extension may be due to climatic changes: this is the case for instance for species Himantoglossum (=Barlia) robertianum which existed before only in the Mediterranean districts and which is now reaching the Lyon area.

ON: Those conclusions are already published and available for people interesting in French orchids?
JK: Conclusions hav’nt been published till now but I hope that they’ll be published soon.
At least, an Atlas of French orchids will be published within the 2 next years with of course interpretation of mapping results.

ON: Thank you.


Bournerias et al Les orchidées de France, Belgique, Luxembourg second edition December 2005.
Biotope editor

Photos: Koenig's collection

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