ALGARVE BIRDWATCHING
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Algarve Orchids
   
The Algarve is home to large diversity of orchids totalling close to 30 species. This is due largely to the existence of a major limestone feature, known as the Barrocal. This endemic-rich region is a botanists haven and is revered as one of the most important areas in Europe for plant diversity.
     
   

Bumble-bee Orchid Ophrys bombyliflora

The Barrocal meets the coast from Cape Saint Vincent (Cabo de São Vicente) in the far west to near Burgãu, in the Lagos county. From here it leaves the southern coast becoming a relatively narrow inland feature often only 4-5 kms in depth north to south. In the central Algarve, notably near Loulé, the Barrocal widens to near 20 kms. East of here the Barrocal reaches to the vicinity of Castro Marim and starts to fragment into a series of “islands” over the Spanish border. Much of the Barrocal landscape is hilly of varying elevation, from around 80m to over 400m above sea-level and often punctuated by steep sided valleys and escarpments.  

Thankfully, although often threatened with new housing, well-conserved areas abound, characterised by a mosaic of often rocky scrublands and small meadows. Whenever one is in the Barrocal dry stone walls from past ground clearance are never far away. Orchards, usually abandoned nowadays, typically contain Almond, Fig, Olive, Carob and citrus. In a few areas, mainly along the northern limits in the central Algarve, relic Holm Oaks woods occur, testimony to the distant past. All these habitats are the most productive areas for finding larger colonies of wild orchids being the home to the Ophrys (Bee Orchid) family as well as a considerable range of the other orchids and indeed many other floral specialities of the region. Limestone habitats rich in orchids are also to be found scattered along coastal areas westwards of Albufeira.

To the north of the Barrocal the soil type changes to the acidic shale dominated hills, usually much higher and its flora changes accordingly. This is the largest landscape feature of the Algarve, which continues north to cover much of the Alentejo; that is, close to a third of the whole of Portugal. These northern Algarvean hills, although somewhat less diverse in their flora, also contain much to excite the botanist. Here the Cork Oak woodlands dominate with a few species of orchids finding their home here too. One notable inhabitant is here in its stronghold, the locally endemic helloborine Epipactis lusitanica.

     
   

Sawfly Orchid Ophrys tenthredinifera

Photography is irresistible when confronted with an orchid but when doing so its all to easy to inadvertently tread on others nearby, so great care is advised. Anyone tempted to pick or dig up these plants should bear in mind that many species take more than 5 years to reach flowering stage and may be decades old. As in the remainder of the EU all parts of wild orchids are legally protected in Portugal.

Wild orchids are possibly the most often looked for of all flora. From as early as mid February species come into flower, the last of them flowering through May or in a couple of cases a little later. Only one species does not flower in this period; the very localised Autumn Lady's-tresses Spiranthes Spiralis, which flowers erratically from September through to December.

Rewarding excursions concentrating on these fascinating flowers are offered in the springtime when upwards of 10 species can be seen in a day moving from site to site. Other flora, butterflies and birdwatching can be incorporated to make for a day full of variety, ideal for those with a more general interest in nature. If this is something you would find interesting feel free to contact me simonwates@sapo.pt
     
Orchid checklist    
The following list covers all species reliably recorded in the Algarve. It must be stressed that the indications of abundance are in the context of suitable habitat in the region, which in many areas can be quite scarce. The flowering dates are those typical for the Algarve. The list is in alphabetical order by scientific names. (All photographs on this page by Simon Wates).
     
   
Man Orchid Aceras anthropophorum
Man Orchid Aceras anthropophorum

Habitat: Limestone; uncultivated grassy areas in dry scrub and woodland clearings
Status: Localised in central Barrocal and rare in the west
Flowering: March - May


Pyramidal Orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis

Habitat: Limestone; uncultivated grassy areas
Status: Common throughout the Barrocal and other areas on limestone
Flowering: April - May


Sword-leaved Helleborine Cephalanthera longifolia

Habitat: Higher reaches of Holm Oak woodland on north facing or shady slopes in the central Barrocal and Serra de Monchique (Picota)
Status: Scarce
Flowering: March - April

     
   
Epipactis lusitanica
Epipactis lusitanica

Habitat: Endemic to southern Portugal and nearby Spain occurring mainly in Cork Oak woodlands and scrub on shale
Status: Fairly common in some areas
Flowering: March – May

Note; Epipactis lusitanica and the similar orchid Epipactis tremolsii are widely accepted as being full species. The often recorded Broad-leaved Helleborine Epipactis helleborine is, according to Flora ibérica known no nearer than the extreme north of Portugal, where it is scarce.


Epipactis tremolsii

Habitat: Limestone; edges of evergreen oak woodlands in the central Barrocal
Status: Locally common (?).
Flowering: March - May

     
   
Twin-leaved Gennaria Gennaria diphylla
Twin-leaved Gennaria Gennaria diphylla
Habitat: Mainly limestone in scrub; often close to sea in steep valleys
Status: Very rare in Lagos county, localised and scarce in Vila do Bispo and Aljezur counties
Flowering: March - May


White Mountain Orchid Pseudorchis albida
Habitat: On limestone in rock fissures
Status: Extremely rare. Discovered near Salir in 1995 and was the first record of this species in Portugal
Flowering: May


Violet Limodore Limodorum abortivum
Habitat: On cool soils in oak woodlands
Status: Rare and localised in central Algarve and possibly Serra de Monchique
Flowering: April - May
     
   
Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera
Dense-flowered Orchid Neotinea maculata
Habitat: Deciduous oak woodlands and tall scrub
Status: Scarce and localised in the central Algarve on the northern edges of the barrocal and Serra de Monchique
Flowering: March - May


Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera
Habitat: Normally on limestone; usually on deep, rather humid soils
Status: Scarce throughout
Flowering: April – May


Bumble-bee Orchid Ophrys bombyliflora  
Habitat: Limestone in scrub and meadows
Status: Rather common and often abundant throughout
Flowering: March - May



     
   
Sombre Bee Orchid Ophrys fusca fusca
Sombre Bee Orchid Ophrys fusca group
Habitat: Normally on limestone in scrub and meadows
Status: Fairly common throughout
Flowering: March - May

The following subspecies or species are recognised as being full species by some authorities. It seems that their identification is all too often hindered by clinal swarms (and individuals) that do not show clear diagnostic field marks for reliable assignment to one or other of the subspecies/species. Recently, Flora ibérica takes a cautionary approach and considers the following 3 subspecies in the Algarve context.

Ophrys fusca fusca, which includes O f. attaviria (a form not considered reliably identifiable, according to Flora ibérica).
Ophrys f. bilunulata
Ophrys f. dyris

A recently described form,Ophrys algarvensis (D. Tyteca, Benito & M. Walravens in J. Eur. Orchid. 35: (2003) is considered by Flora ibérica to have intermendiate characters of Ophrys fusca dyris and the Sicilian endemic Ophrys mirabilis.
     
   
Woodcock Orchid Ophrys scolopax
Yellow-lipped Bee Orchid Ophrys lutea
Habitat: Normally on limestone in scrub and meadows
Status: Common throughout and often abundant
Flowering: March - May


Woodcock Orchid Ophrys scolopax  
Habitat: Normally on limestone in scrub and meadows
Status: Rather scarce and localised throughout
Flowering: March - May
The often cited Ophrys sphegifera or Ophrys scolopax apiformis has been recently found to be fairly common in limestone hills north of Faro. However, its taxonomy as a distinct species is a subject of debate.
     
   
Mirror Orchid Ophrys speculum
Mirror Orchid Ophrys speculum  
Habitat: Normally on limestone in scrub and meadows
Status: Common throughout and often abundant
Flowering: March - May


Ophrys vernixia is synonomous with Ophrys speculum lusitanica and it is unclear whether this distinct form is a full species or a subspecies of Ophrys speculum. It is endemic to southern Spain and in Portugal, where it is scarce and local and found mainly in the east in the Algarve.
  

Sawfly Orchid Ophrys tenthredinifera  
Habitat: Normally on limestone in scrub and meadows. Perhaps the most likely of the Ophrys to occur on acid soils.
Status: Common throughout
Flowering: February - May
     
   
Conical Orchid Orchis conica
Conical Orchid Orchis conica  
Habitat: On limestone in scrub and meadows
Status: Rather scarce throughout, although often numerous where it occurs
Flowering: February- March


Fragrant Bug Orchid Orchis fragrans
Habitat: On limestone in scrub and meadows
Status: Rare, apparently only found on hills inland from Moncarapaho
Flowering: March - May

This orchid, although often considered not to be entirely separable from Orchis coriophora, the vanilla scent of plants in the Algarve is assignable to Orchis fragrans.
     
   
Naked Man Orchid Orchis italica
Naked Man Orchid Orchis italica  
Habitat: On limestone in scrub and meadows
Status: Common and often forming large colonies
Flowering: March - May


Lax-flowered orchid Orchis laxiflora  
Habitat: On shale in humid valley floors
Status: Apparently very rare in the Algarve and found only found north of Portimão.
Flowering: April - May


Early Purple Orchid Orchis mascula
Habitat: On the highest reaches of limestone in the central Algarve
Status: Rare in the Algarve
Flowering: April – May
Note that the Iberian endemic Orchis tenera has been cited for the Algarve near Salir but is usually considered a mere form due to inconsistent identification features
     
   
Green-winged Orchid type Orchis morio picta
Green-winged Orchid Orchis morio group
The most conservative approach of this group of orchids is followed by Flora ibérica who state that the current criteria for their identification is unreliable and considers this to be one species with various forms.


Orchis morio morio
Habitat: On limestone and shale in scrub on humid soils
Status: Common and often forming large colonies
Flowering: March - May


Orchis morio picta
Habitat: On limestone in scrub, apparently preferring sandy decalcified heaths on the barrocal
Status: Rather scarce
Flowering: March - May


Champagne’s Orchid Orchis morio champagneuxii  
Habitat: On limestone in scrub and meadows in arid areas
Status: Common and often forming large colonies
Flowering: March - May
Note; this is a very easy recognisable form


     
   
Heart-flowered Serapias Serapias cordigera
Heart-flowered Serapias Serapias cordigera
Habitat: On deep quartz sand deposits on limestone and in Cork Oak woodlands on shale.
Status: Rather scarce and localised
Flowering: April - May


Tongue Orchid Serapias lingua
Habitat: Undisturbed damp or wet ground like temporary pond margins or by streams
Status: Rather scarce and localised although often abundant where it occurs
Flowering: April - June


Small-flowered SerapiasSerapias parviflora
Habitat: On any soil type although much more often on limestone in well preserved areas
Status: Common over wide areas. By far the most abundant of the Tongue orchids
Flowering: March - May
     
   
Long-lipped Serapias Serapias vomeracea
Serapias strictiflora  
Habitat: Usually on humid sand often on slopes indifferent of underlying soil type
Status: Locally fairly common
Flowering: April - May


Long-lipped Serapias Serapias vomeracea
Habitat: Undisturbed damp or wet ground in or close to well conserved temporary ponds (Mediterranean temporary ponds are a rare, declining and species rich habitat, considered a priority to be conserved within the European directives)
Status: One of our rarest orchids apparently occurring only in the far southwest
Flowering: April - June


     
   
Autumn Ladies Tresses Spiranthes spiralis
Summer Ladies Tresses Spiranthes aestivalis
Habitat: Damp places
Status: Rare and apparently only recorded from Caldas de Monchique and the north-eastern Algarve
Flowering: May-June (July?)


Autumn Ladies Tresses Spiranthes spiralis  
Habitat: Apparently restricted to limestone near the coast, especially in the far west
Status: Rather rare
Flowering: September - December

     
Principal sources for this webpage    
Lax-flowered orchid Orchis laxiflora at possibly its only colony in the Algarve near Portimão
Castroveijo, S. et al.2005. Flora ibérica: plantas vasculares de la Peninsula Ibérica e Islas Baleares. Real Jardin Botanico, Vol. XXII. C.S.I.C. Madrid.

Pinto Gomes, CJ., Paiva Ferreira, RJP., 2005. Flora e Vegetação do Barrocal Algarvio (Tavira – Portimão). C.C.D.R.A.

Delforge, P. 1995. Orchids of Britain and Europe. HarperCollins, London.

Cardoso, P., Costa, H., Mascarenhas, M. & Wates, S., 2005. Relatório Final, Plano Municipal de Ambiente de Lagos, Componente Ecologia. Camâra Municipal de Lagos

Wates, S., 2003. Estudo de Caracterização do Paul de Lagos. Vol III. Flora. Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves, Lisboa.


Simon would welcome any information regarding species of orchids found in the Algarve that do not appear on this page
     
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