The form and the function gynostemium of the European Orchids

Jean Claessens and Jacques Kleynen are nature photographers specialized in extreme macro photography. They have been studying orchids since twenty years ago. At about 1990, they become interested in the genus Epipactis photographing all species. Since them, they regularly publish articles concerning the results of their field researches, such as "Het geslacht Epipactis in de Benelux: bloembiologische beschrijvingen en soorttypische kenmerken - Eurorchis 3: 5 - 38 (1991)", "Investigations on the autogamy in Ophrys apifera Hudson. Jber. naturwiss. Ver. Wuppertal 55, 62-77", " Anmerkungen zur Hybridbildung bei Platanthera bifolia und P. chlorantha (in print) (2005), among many others.


ON: You're nature photographers specialized in extreme macro photography and your lecture concerned the European Orchids. What came first: the photography or orchids?
JC & JK: At first came photography. If you are interested in orchids, in Europe you inevitably have to take pictures, because all orchids are protected by law, and cannot be grown in a greenhouse. But the great charm of orchid searching is being in nature and enjoying the beautiful landscapes and rich flora of the orchid sites.

ON: How long have you been studying orchids?
JC & JK: We have been studying orchids since about 1985, at first we wanted to get to know all orchid species and traveled throughout Europe, but soon we got more interested in the scientific aspects of the orchids. Our investigations concerning the gynostemium were based on curiosity: we wanted to know what was the base of classification, and so we learned, that the morphology of the gynostemium is (was…) crucial in orchid classification.

ON: How long have you taken to do the research concerning the Gynostemium of the European Orchids, subject of your lecture in Dijon?
JC & JK: At about 1990 we got a special interest in the genus Epipactis, and decided to photograph the gynostemia of all Epipactis species. The lecture that resulted from those investigations was quite appreciated, and gave us the idea to do the same for all European orchid genera. In 1995 we published an article < Claessens, J. & Kleynen, J. (1995): Die Systematiek der europäischen Orchideen, illustriert an Hand von Makro-Fotos - Jour. Eur. Orch. 27 (1): 93 - 124. > , and afterwards, in 1997, we presented our results at the “Wuppertaler Orchideentagung”, a orchid congress in Wuppertal. It took quite some time and training getting acquainted with the extreme macro photography, but it is a quite fascinating field that enables one to discover normally hidden aspects of flower morphology.

ON: You said that most descriptions of gynostemia of European orchids are based on alcohol preparation. And about your research?
JC & JK: Since we are amateurs, most of our orchid studies took place during holidays. We always take with us a binocularly microscope and with the help of this we could study the flowers of all orchid genera from fresh material.

ON: Which are the facts that you gathered examining fresh flower material concerning the morphology of the gynostemia and their function?
JC & JK: We found, that some aspects of the gynostemium could only be studied on fresh material. A good example for this is the development of the gynostemium of Corallorhiza trifida, which will be discussed in our contribution to the annals of the congress. This approach also enabled us to understand more about the exact functioning of the gynostemium, important for the full understanding of the pollination biology. Fresh material enables you e.g. to observe the speed of caudicle bending after it has been removed from the anther. Our observations showed e.g., that in Ophrys apifera, an autogamous species, gusts of wind that make the pollinia sway, play a vital role in pollination (see our article “Investigations on the autogamy in Ophrys apifera Hudson. Jber. naturwiss. Ver. Wuppertal 55, 2002)

ON: Which countries does your research enclose?
JC & JK: Most European countries, for some species are restricted to specific areas, e.g. Habenaria tridactylites can only be studied on the Canarian Islands. And for Steveniella satyroides one has to go to Turkey. But that was one of the charms of our researches: we got to know many countries with their own orchid flora.

ON: Which are the European genera have you worked about, besides Cephalanthera, Corallorhiza, Epipogium and Ophrys?
JC & JK: We studied all European orchid genera, that is 36 genera if one takes the “old” classifications. Even if nowadays some genera are (re)united, we had to study them for ourselves in order to form our opinion on the genera. At the moment we are working on a publication on all European orchid genera, and we hope to finish this by the end of 2006.

ON: You should visited many habitats to achieve your work. What could you tell about their characteristics?
JC & JK: In Europe one finds only terrestrial species, and most European orchids can be found on calcareous ground. Many of our investigations were made in the south of Europe, that is France, Italy and Spain. In those countries there are large calcareous areas, which still have a fairly undisturbed flora, although the influence of man is omnipresent. Many orchids depend on mans activities, above all the pasture with sheep, which keeps the landscape open and provides thus suitable growing places for many orchids. In the densely populated regions as e.g. Holland, the orchid growing places are mostly restricted to nature reserves.

ON: In the literature, there are some controversial in the data about the number of species occurring in Europe. Which is your conclusion about that?
JC & JK: In Europe there is a great devaluation of the species concept. Due to modern means of transport orchid lovers travel a lot and can visit many orchid sites, which show the variability of the species and genera. But there is a trend to attach much importance to minor differences, ignoring the variability. This results in a continuous flood of new “species”. All “new” taxa are given the specific rank, thus making it very hard to see relations between taxa. This has lead to an enormous mix-up of species, which urgently needs a thorough revision, in which in our opinion most new species will end up in synonymy.

ON: Which are the most widely spread species in Europe?
JC & JK: Orchis and Ophrys are widespread genera.

ON: What can you tell about the conservation of orchids in Europe?
JC & JK: In general, orchids are well protected by law, and there is a good awareness of the importance of orchids as indicators of a sound environment. Unfortunately, in politics environment is no longer the most important topic; the recession is first priority, and so nature conservation is not as important to the government as it used to be.

ON: Thank you, Jean Claessens and Jacques Kleynen!

Cephalanthera rubra gynostemium
Corallorhiza trifida flower 
Corallorhiza trifida gynostemium

Epipogium aphyllum flower
Epipogium aphyllum gynostemium
Ophrys apifera flower
Ophrys apifera gynostemium

Photos by Jean Claessens and Jacques Kleynen


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