The Pyramidal Orchid, Anacamptis pyramidalis, is an orchid native to southwestern Eurasia, from western Europe through the Mediterranean region eastwards to Iran. In Germany, it is rare and was declared Orchid of the Year in 1990 to heighten awareness of this plant.
Charles Darwin's book Fertilisation of Orchids included an illustration of the head of a moth with its proboscis laden with several pairs of pollinia from the Pyramidal orchid, Orchis pyramidalis.
This hardy perennial plant grows to a height of 30 cm. The colour of the flower varies from pink to purple, or rarely white, and the scent is described as "foxy". The arrangement of hermaphroditic flowers in a compact pyramidal shape is very distinctive and gives the orchid its common name. The flowers are pollinated by butterflies and moths. The mechanism by which its pairs of pollinia attach themselves to an insect's proboscis was discovered by Charles Darwin and described in his book on the Fertilisation of Orchids. This orchid requires a sunny spot on diverse soils: loamy or clay, rarely on sandy soils. It can even grow on very alkaline soil.
The dried and ground tuber gives a fine white powder, called salep. This is a very nutritious sweet starchlike substance. It is used in drinks, cereals and in making bread. It is also used medicinally in diets for children and convalescents.
There are some notable varieties, which are sometimes treated as subspecies – and as they seem to be limited to certain regions, this may be correct:
• Anacamptis pyramidalis var. tanayensis Tanay Pyramidal Orchid.
Flowers darker and smaller. Fribourg and Valais cantons (Switzerland).
• Anacamptis pyramidalis var. urvilleana– Maltese Pyramidal Orchid
• Anacamptis pyramidalis var. sanguinea Western Irish Pyramidal Orchid.
Inflorescence rounder, plant smaller overall. County Galway to County Kerry (Ireland)
The variety alba can be found anywhere in the Pyramidal Orchid's range; its flowers are white.