The variety of the orchid species in the various environments of the Dolomites
This short itinerary dedicated to the orchids of the Dolomites develops in a valley bottom rich in very different environments, at the confluence of the four major Park valleys in the alluvial plain of Pian de Loa: Val Travenanzes, Val di Fanes, Valle del Boite and, a little more in the south, Val Felizon. Of course, the presence of various habitats leads to a greater presence of ecological niches for various species and, as a consequence, to the presence of a greater biodiversity. The habitats you will touch along the way are the following: xeric mountain Norway spruce woodland, Scots pine woodland, Norway spruce-beech tree woodland, Mugo pine woodland, grassland with continuous clod and calcareous substratum, sunny calcareous cliff, stream shore with riparian vegetation.
The orchid species growing along this itinerary are 16: they have not the same features as far as beauty, rareness, and vulnerability are concerned, and some of them are particularly difficult to observe; moreover, these orchid species do not exhaust the important group of orchid species linked to wetlands. The choice of the blooming period is however important, since it is different for each species (but for all of them, between early May and late July).
The itinerary goes from the Park small house to the SS road, crosses it, and continues uphill, following an ancient trail developing along the left bank of Felizon; cross the stream with a high bridge built on its ravine and climb to Pra de Castel with a few hairpin bends; here you will reach the SS road again. After crossing it for the second time, follow it uphill along a dirt road, ford Ru dei Cavai and go down to the square of Sant'Uberto; on the left of the asphalt road leading to Ra Stua, take another forest road leading down to the Boite, cross it on a foot-bridge situated at the mouth of Costa dei Sié ravine. Follow now the track crossing the pasture of Pian de Loa and, taking the asphalt road coming from Ponte Felizon, follow it towards the south, until you return to the departure point of the ring-route.
Some orchids are widespread in all the Alps and can tolerate very different environmental conditions; others are more selective as far as habitat is concerned: for instance, the orchids exclusively linked to the dry calcareous substrata (Fly Orchids, belonging to the genus Ophrys, for instance) or the orchids linked to thick spruce fir woodlands with a lot of bedding (for instance, Goodyera, Corallorhiza, and Malaxis). Some species are rare because growing only in very particular environments (i.e. wetlands), but also because they have a more limited distribution range than other species and, in some cases, because they were indiscriminately picked up in the past.
Looking at the list, we can say that the most important species growing in the Park for beauty and representativeness is without a doubt the lady's-slipper orchid (Cypripedium calceolus). This orchid has been included in the national and regional red lists, although it is no longer rare and endangered as it was in the past. It is probably the most beautiful Italian orchid and is linked to pinewoods and Mugo pine woodlands with abundant calcareous detritus. A not very showy but important species and with a distribution range limited to the Eastern Alps is Malaxis monophyllos, whose feature is having one only leaf and a very delicate pollination and seed germination system; linked to thick spruce fir woodlands, it is considered endangered and has been included in the red lists of Venetia. Less rare and endangered, Orchis militaris is another endemic species of north-eastern Italy and is linked to marginal habitats between meadows and woodlands.