Only a small portion of the visitors arriving in Sardinia, including regular visitors, are aware of the more than 60 different types of wild orchids that make the island so special from a botanical point of view. The island’s natural habitat, thanks perhaps to its distance from the continent, is still original, millennial and completely characteristic. Of the approximately 1,500 species of flowering plants present on the island, almost 350 are endemic, i.e. they are found exclusively in Sardinia and nowhere else in the world. This wealth is due to the dry summer climate alternating with the wet and temperate Sardinian winter.
We often associate an image of a large flower of exotic beauty with the term orchid. The planet plays host to about 20-30,000 species in tropical zones and just 200 in Europe, of which 160 are also present in Italy. In the history of evolution, orchids are among the youngest plants, although today they represent as many as one sixth of all flowering plants in the world.
While tropical orchids are epiphytes and mainly grow using trees as their hosts, in Europe they are generally geophytes, which grow in a wide variety of soils and survive unfavourable periods with the help of their roots in the form of bulbs, or of testes, where “orchis” – the etymological root of the name orchid – comes from. Thanks to this energy reserve they thrive on harsh, rocky and uncultivated soils, and it is futile to hope to find them on rich, cultivated or fertilsed land.
Many orchids have specialised in attracting a particular pollinator, which can be seen from the shape of the flower: some pretend to be a butterfly, while others imitate specific insects and give off sexual pheromones to stimulate them. Once they land on the lip of the flower they are duly pollinated so that, when flying on to other flowers, they complete the cycle of reproduction. When the insect carries pollen from one type of flowers to another, seedlings known as hybrids are born.
Where can you find precious orchids in Sardinia? Basically everywhere. Curiously, many grow right in the ditches by roadsides. Large concentrations can be found on calcareous soils, such as the region of Monte Albo, southwest of Siniscola, not far from the coast.
With this brief introduction, the author hopes to inspire you on the one hand to enjoy the delightfully beautiful nature of Sardinia, and on the other to help make people aware of the vulnerability of this natural environment and, therefore, to contribute to its conservation for future generations.