The French Orchids

Professor Daniel PRAT is the director of the Higher Plant Genome and Evolution Lab, Biology Department, University Claude Bernard, Lyon (France) In charge of the Scientific Commission of the French Orchid Society (SFO)


ON: In your lecture, you said that the number of described species has increased for several decades. You speak about the orchids in general or the French species (or European)?
DP: The number of species increases years regularly since, like Philipp Cribb has also made noticed. If I take the first edition of 1998 of the Orchids of France Belgium and Luxembourg, work carried out by the Société Française d'Orchidophilie, there was in France 147 tax divided into 129 species and 30 kinds. The second edition which will appear in the next months presents 171 tax divided into 160 species and 27 genera. That does not mean that the number of biological species increased so much for this period. This is a question of increase of observations and descriptions of tax which are so strongly looked alike each other that even the specialists have difficulties in differentiating and which all are described with the status of species whereas in many cases, it would be more correct to describe them as variety or subspecies. This distorts the inventories of bio diversity and masks the threats of disappearance which weigh on certain species . My comments concern essentially the French and European orchids, the same tendency nevertheless less remarked is observed on a world level. The number of the genera which decreases results from the taxonomic changes caused by molecular phylogenies which result in joining together genera. They bring to remove two additional genera.

ON: Which are the main French genus?
DP: The main French genus are: Anacamptis, Dactylorhiza, Epipactis, Neotinea, Ophrys and Orchis that include many species which quite spread and often observed. The other genera have a more local distribution or are less observed

ON: Which are the most spread species?
DP: The most spread species covering the essential of the country are: Anacamptis pyramidalis, Anacamptis morio (=Orchis morio), Cephalanthera damasonium, Cephalanthera longofolia, Coeloglossum viride (broad surface of distribution, but rather rare), Dactylorhiza incarnata, Dactylorhiza maculata, Epipactis helleborine, Epipactis palustris (locally abundant, but many habitats disappear because of draining from the marshes), Himantoglossum hircinum, Listera ovata, Neotinea ustulata (=Orchis ustulata), Neottia nidus-avis (broad distribution but not very abundant habitats), Ophrys apifera, Ophrys aranifera (=O. sphegodes), Ophrys araneola, Ophrys insectifera, Orchis anthropophora (=Aceras anthropophorum), Orchis mascula, Orchis militaris, Orchis purpurea, Orchis simia, Platanthera bifolia (broad distribution but not very dense habitats), Platanthera chlorantha (broad distribution but not very dense stations).

ON: Which are the main habitats (Average temperature during the winter and during the summer)?
DP: We have varied ecological conditions in France, since we find orchids of the sea level in the Mediterranean area until in the mountains regions in the Alps with more than 2000 m of altitude. The average temperatures vary roughly in the Mediterranean zones of 27 °C in hot period with 15°C in cold period, in area of plain more in north, the temperature averages vary 22°C in summer with 10°C in winter, in mountain, they are of 15°C in summer and -5°C in winter. These values are only indicative, the variations day labourers are sometimes important.

ON: All species remain subterranean during the winter?
DP: The majority of the orchids spend the winter without visible air parts, however, the species of the genera Goodyera and Ophrys which are largely widespread formed of the leaves in the autumn which remain through the winter. In other species, the leaves are formed in spring.

ON: Is there a aware of conservation among French in general? People feel concerned by this problem? Is there a governmental program for that?
DP: The protection of the plants was founded officially in France by a ministerial decree in 1995. Many vegetable species, from which some species of orchids are protected: any taking away is prohibited. Authorizations can be granted for scientific work. This protection is applicable on all the own territory. Protections of comparable nature were granted at the regional level. Between 1986 and 2005, protections assured in each French area were published, including the overseas departments located in zones tropical, in the form of ministerial decrees. Nearly 100 temperate species are thus protected either at the national level or on a regional or sometimes departmental level. The taking away also prohibited in the natural reserves, whatever the statute of protection of the species. The regulation is a thing, but the behavior of people in is another. The peasants who have species protected on their grounds have the right to turn over the ground and to change objective of culture. Thus even of the habitats of the famous "lady's slippers", our emblematic French orchis can be destroyed. We can also note the disappearance of plants even in the natural reserves. Some indelicate orchidists always take whole plants in nature in spite of prohibitions. Gatherings take place also. A lawsuit was engaged and gained against people who took orchids. The regulation opens the possibility of action of justice against the people in fault.

ON: Which is the role played by your society in all this?
DP: The Société Française d'Orchidophilie played a part in the definition of the lists of species protected at the national level, sometimes also at the regional level. The protection of the orchids forms part of the activities of the company described in its statutes. All shows in which the SFO takes part, panels are generally presented on the biology of the orchids and also on their protection, in a way of making public concerned about this important aspect. In the works published by the society, like that on Orchids of France, Belgium and Luxembourg, a chapter is devoted to protection with the indications of the regulations in progress. The tables of all the species protected in France are provided in the work. The works with more regional vocation mention the orchids protected on the territory concerned. Protection is a difficult objective and the economic interests are often contrary with protection. Sometimes, in spite of the information provided by the society unfortunately we do not manage to avoid their destruction. It is a problem of making people concerned and of education, it is enough to few disrespectful people break the rules and the effort done by many others is destroyed. Making of a large audience concerned seems to us to be one of the best ways.

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