Saturday, July 10, 2010

Pyramidal orchids stunningly beautiful

Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis)
Pyramidal orchids are stunningly beautiful. In Malta they usually grow in open spaces emerging out of the short vegetation like a brightly coloured high-rise tower. 

Two species are found in Malta one of which is endemic to the Maltese islands although some years ago it was found in Puglia in Italy. The common pyramidal orchid, known in Maltese as orkida piramidali flowers in April and May while the Maltese pyramidal orchid (orkida piramidali ta’ Malta), which is not as common as the pyramidal orchid, flowers between February and April. 

The two species are very similar in shape and colour although the endemic species is usually smaller and has pale pink or white flowers.

The pyramidal orchid is found in southwestern Eurasia from Western Europe through the Mediterranean region eastwards to Iran. It can grow up to 30 cm although in Malta it is usually much smaller probably as a result of the shallow soil in which it grows and the effect of the wind. The flowers are pollinated by butterflies and moths. 

Orchid pollination was first described by Charles Darwin in 1862 in the book ‘Fertilisation of Orchids’ which had the self explanatory title ‘On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing’. 

This was Darwin’s second book after the better known ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life’ which was later renamed ‘On the Origin of species’.

 Before writing this book Charles Darwin had spent five years going around the world on the ship HMS Beagle during which he collected plants, animals and rocks and which led him to formulate his theory of natural selection better known as the theory of evolution.

This article was published in The Times on 19.05.10

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