Blooms of orchids on Elba island

Elba is the largest island in the Arcipelago Toscano and lies just 10 km far from the coast of Tuscany. The vicinity with the continent, together with size, influenced its biodiversity making the island the most complex ecosystem of all the arcipelago. Orchids are present with more than 40 species, but they are also particularly threated.

The introduction of Wild Boars from the continent on the insular ecosystem has generated a dangerous imbalance: this large omnivore has impacted heavily into the natural habitats and orchids has become one of the most affected organisms, being searched as a delicacy by boars. Some species are almost disappeared, like the Dactylorhiza insularis, some other are decreasing in number.

Elba was also known as the first exile location of Napoléon Bonaparte, that spent here almost a full year before the escape and his last battle of Waterloo, inhabiting a couple of nice palaces in Portoferraio and S. Martino.

I visited the Elba in mid April, for about 3 days, after my excursion to the island of Capraia (link to the post), being rather unlucky with weather: the rain affected most of the time, sometimes with strong gusts of wind.

The navigation from Piombino to Portoferraio took about an hour, offering the possibility to do some seawatching: I observed a couple of Shags, few Scopoli’s Shearwaters, a ten of Yelkouan Shearwaters, some Yellow-legged and Mediterranean Gulls.

Scopoli's Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea)
Scopoli’s Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea)
Yelkouan Shearwaters (Puffinus yelkouan)
Yelkouan Shearwaters (Puffinus yelkouan)
Scopoli's Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea)
Scopoli’s Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea)

Portoferraio was a very attractive town, with powerful walls and forts, but also narrow alleys, steep flights of steps, warm coloured houses and terraces with a lovely view to the harbour or the Tyrrenian sea.

Orchids were spread expecially on the eastern side of island, having in the area of mount Calamita the best stronghold, with some amazing meadows.

Butterfly orchids (Anacamptis papilionacea)
Butterfly orchids (Anacamptis papilionacea)

What I observed was that many times the higher density of orchids was along the roads, probably because the vehicles could spread the pollens, but maybe also because the presence of traffic kept away boars.

Ophrys mix
Big Ophrys mix

The commonest species were the Butterfly Orchid (Anacamptis papilionacea)….

Butterfly orchid (Anacamptis papilionacea)
Butterfly orchid (Anacamptis papilionacea)

Ophrys incubacea

Ophrys incubacea
Ophrys incubacea

…Green-winged Orchid (Anacamptis morio)…

Anacamptis morio
Green-winged Orchid (Anacamptis morio)

…and the superb Scarce Tongue-orchid (Serapias neglecta).

Scarce Tongue-orchid (Serapias neglecta)
Scarce Tongue-orchid (Serapias neglecta)
Scarce Tongue-orchid (Serapias neglecta)
Scarce Tongue-orchid (Serapias neglecta)

Here and there I found single or little populations of Ophrys classica

Ophrys classica
Ophrys classica

…Common Tongue-orchid (Serapias lingua)…

Common Tongue-orchid (Serapias lingua)
Common Tongue-orchid (Serapias lingua)

…Milk-white Orchid (Neotinea lactea)…

Neotinea lactea
Milk-white Orchid (Neotinea lactea)

…Heart-flowered Tongue-orchid (Serapias cordigera)…

Heart-flowered Tongue-orchid (Serapias cordigera)
Heart-flowered Tongue-orchid (Serapias cordigera)

…and the wonderful Mirror Orchid (Ophrys speculum).

Mirror Orchid (Ophrys speculum)
Mirror Orchid (Ophrys speculum)

The cute villages along the island were innumerable.

I did birding most of the time even in urban centres and the most frequent birds were: Ring-necked Pheasant, Barn Swallow, Eurasian Collared Dove, Blackbird, Blackcap, Moltoni’s Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Firecrest, Blue and Great Tit, Italian Sparrow (sub-endemic of Italian peninsula), Chaffinch, Serin, Greenfinch and Goldfinch. More localized were Common Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Common Swift, Scops Owl, White Wagtail, Wren, Cetti’s Warbler, Long-tailed Tit, Jackdaw and Cirl Bunting.

Italian Sparrow (Passer italiae)
Italian Sparrow (Passer italiae)

A would have expected more migrants, expecially with rain, but I didn’t see much more than one Night Heron, tens of House Martins, few Tree Pipits and Robins, one Nightingale, one Song Thrush, a couple of Whinchats and few Willow and Wood Warblers.

Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)
Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)

The specialities of the island are the two subendemic species of birds of Tyrrenian islands: Corsican Finch (Serinus corsicana) and Marmora’s Warbler (Sylvia sarda). I managed to see only the second one in a place, together with the sister species Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata).

Marmora's Warbler (Sylvia sarda)
Marmora’s Warbler (Sylvia sarda)
Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata)
Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata)
Marmora's Warbler (Sylvia sarda)
Marmora’s Warbler (Sylvia sarda)
Marmora's Warbler (Sylvia sarda)
Marmora’s Warbler (Sylvia sarda)

The flora of the island was pretty rich, but probably in delay about the main blooms.

On the other hand, some interesting species of orchids were almost over, including Ophrys (fusca) lucifera, endemic of Italy and strictly linked with rosmary…

Ophrys lucifera
Ophrys lucifera

…and Ophrys exaltata montis-leonis, endemic as well of Tyrrenian sea coasts.

Ophrys exaltata montis-leonis
Ophrys exaltata montis-leonis

For some other species, instead, was unfortunately too early: for example for Man Orchid (Orchis anthropophora).

Man Orchid (Orchis anthropophora)
Man Orchid (Orchis anthropophora)

Particularly interesting were some ibrids among Ophrys, with truly bizarre shapes.

Hybrid Ophrys speculum X Ophrys classica
Hybrid Ophrys speculum X Ophrys classica

Anyway I would like to end the post with a last series of pictures of the commonest and most extraordinary species: Butterfly Orchid, Scarce Tongue-orchid and and Ophrys incubacea.

Scarce Tongue-orchid (Serapias neglecta)
Scarce Tongue-orchid (Serapias neglecta)
Butterfly orchid (Anacamptis papilionacea)
Butterfly orchid (Anacamptis papilionacea)
Ophrys incubacea
Ophrys incubacea
Scarce Tongue-orchid (Serapias neglecta)
Scarce Tongue-orchid (Serapias neglecta)

Luca Boscain

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