Anacamptis sancta (L.) R.M.Bateman, Pridgeon & M.W.Chase

First published in Lindleyana 12: 120 (1997)
This species is accepted
The native range of this species is E. Medit. It is a tuberous geophyte and grows primarily in the temperate biome.


Extinction risk predictions for the world's flowering plants to support their conservation (2024). Bachman, S.P., Brown, M.J.M., Leão, T.C.C., Lughadha, E.N., Walker, B.E.

Predicted extinction risk: not threatened. Confidence: confident


Altogether, the species does not seem to be under threat, although local populations will be destroyed by human activity over and over again, especially in areas close to the coast.

General Description

The appearance of the species resembles that of Anacamptis coriophora. It grows up to 50 cm tall, but on average about 30 cm. Up to 15 unmottled, strap-shaped and upward-keeled leaves of more than 10 cm in length are arranged rosette-like at the bottom of the stalk. The uppermost leaves vaginate the stalk; during flowering the leaves normally wither. The bracts are longer than the ovary and they envelop the buds. The flower spike has up to 30 individual flowers that are tightly grouped together; they are larger than those of Anacamptis coriophora. Sepals and matched petals form a closed and externally green-striped helmet that ends in an elongated point that bends downwards towards the lip. The unmottled lip can be 15 mm long, it is coloured mainly pink to dark red and occasionally whitish to cream. Its long diamond shaped side lobes are notched along the edges, and they often show weak greenish stripes running along the outside of the veins. The central lobe of the lip is narrow, it is weakly pointed at the tip and protrudes in opposition to the side lobes. The base of the lip carries two ridges; one on either side of the spur entrance. The spur is thick at the base and bends strongly downwards, well before the end it narrows and this narrow part continues to bend in the direction of the lip. As long as the buds have not opened the spur remains straight, it develops its typical shape while the flowers are opening, but at all times it is shorter than the ovary.


The species prefers sunny to half-shade habitats, above all, temporarily wet places (e.g. small rain channels) on alkaline, stony soil with good drainage. These can be extensive meadows, often very dry at flowering time, meadow-like small patches in the phrygana or similarly situated places in bright pine forests. In comparison to Anacamptis coriophora ssp. fragrans, it seems to prefer more humidity, this remarkable difference is supported by the regional frequency of the species. Based on widely exhaustive mapping data of the island of Rhodes, (Kretzschmar & al., 2001) a specific difference of the distribution is revealed. Whilst in the north, large populations of Anacamptis sancta face only very small populations of Anacamptis coriophora ssp.fragrans, this relationship changes completely in the considerably drier south. HereAnacamptis sancta become the rarity with simultaneous occurrence of strong populations of Anacamptis coriophora ssp. fragrans. Reasons other than the differences in the local amounts of rainfall are not likely.


In the same location, the species flowers a few days after Anacamptis coriophora ssp. fragrans. Flowering time begins in April in the south of the distribution area and as late as June further north. The percentage of flowers setting seed is high, with the seeds being released during the following dry-hot summer period.


The distribution areas of Anacamptis coriophora ssp. fragrans and Anacamptis sancta often overlap, and here local hybrid swarms also appear in which back crossings of the hybrids with the parental species complicate the unequivocal allocation of the plant. Unlike the joint occunence of Anacamptis sancta with Anacamptis coriophora ssp. coriophora is not known and is in all likelihood impossible because Anacamptis sancta settles in low lying areas of the southeast Mediterranean region where Anacamptis. coriophora ssp. coriophora does not appear.
In dry areas close to the coasts of the east Mediterranean, Anacamptis sancta is found frequently; at flowering time it is often the only blossoming orchid. To the west it does not reach the Greek mainland, although it has developed strong populations in many places on the southeast and central Aegean Islands.
With the mapping of Anacamptis sancta, the problem is especially evident in that most visitors record only sprouting rosettes (and not flowering plants due to the late period of bloom) as they will be found at the main flowering time of the other orchids. Mistakes with the differentiation of the very similar rosettes of Anacamptis coriophora ssp. fragrans may commonly occur. Thus, following our own examinations, findings of numerous rosettes on islands of the Aegean Sea have to be assigned to Anacamptis sancta, especially, in the central Aegean Sea, where it may well be more frequent than Anacamptis coriophora ssp. fragrans. To the southeast, the distribution ends in the Levant. In general, Anacamptis sancta seems to strongly prefer regions influenced by a maritime climate, and it avoids locations above 800 m. This could explain why on the very mountainous isles of Crete and Carpathos only very weak populations were found, because here higher ground begins in close proximity to the sea, already.


IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

LC - least concern

Common Names

Holy Orchid


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