Discovering the wild orchids of Montenegro
Wild purple orchids growing on a grassy hillside with blue lake and mountains in the background

To some people, orchids are simply flowers, nice to see but ultimately not that interesting. You people, stop reading now! This post is aimed at the real nature-lovers; the ones who’ll love Montenegro for the incredible array and number of wild orchids you can spot if you’re in the right place at the right time.

Take Lake Skadar National Park, where I live and co-host our lake adventures. Come April, the first of the marsh orchids arrive. Early Purple Orchids (Orchis mascula) and the yellow Elder-flowered Orchid (Dactylorhiza sambucina) can be found sprouting at road edges, by rocks and filling the grassy meadows.

Hot on their heels comes the Bee Orchid (Ophrys scolopax), named for obvious reasons. This one delights with its incredible replica of a bee, right down to its scent, to get itself pollinated. Bee orchids are easy to spot on our hikes along the lake’s hillside trails, once you realise they’re not, actually, bees!

A close-up of a yellow elder-flowered orchid with green background
Elder-flowered orchid (Dactylorhiza sambucina)
A close-up of a bee orchid on a stem with green background
Bee Orchid (Ophrys scolopax)
A close-up of a pink pyramid orchid with green background
Pyramid Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis)
A close-up of a monkey orchid taken in Montenegro
Monkey Orchid (Orchis simia)

Popping pink Pyramid Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis) and the maroon-hued Tongue Orchid (Serapias vomeracea) are common to see from May through June, while Monkey Orchids (Orchis simia) are a real rarity – I’ve seen a handful in all my years of Springtime hiking here. These are the celebrity orchids of Montenegro – reclusive and with outrageous, monkey-like petal hairstyles.

By June, orchard season starts to fade in Montenegro’s hotter south, but it’s still possible to see some stunners at Lake Skadar. Just yesterday, I found a cluster of Lizard Orchid (Himantoglossum) at the road’s edge, metres from our guesthouse Villa Miela. Long tongues poking out, they were quite the distraction on my morning run; impossible to pass without stopping to admire and take some photos!

Lizard Orchid (Himantoglossum)
Maybe Dactylorhiza Cordigera Subsp. Bosniaca – Kaćunak?

One of the greatest things about Montenegro for orchid lovers is this country’s ability to halt time. Just as orchid season ends in the South, it’s picking up pace in the alpine North which experiences Spring-like conditions all summer. Think Sound of Music and you’re along the right lines…

Ever the orchid geek, I was excited to spot a rare sub-species while trekking in Durmitor National Park last June – Dactylorhiza Cordigera Subsp. Bosniaca – Kaćunak. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s what it was (orchid-lovers can have some fierce debates!). While the experts who comment on my posts to the plant-identifying app and research tool, iNaturalist, struggled to identify it, I found it listed as an indigenous species on a info-board for tourists by the famous Black Lake. Surely no question with those attractive leopard-spots on its leaves?

Once you get into the weird and wonderful world of orchids, the learning and enjoyment never stops and with at least 82 species to discover in the Balkan region. I say at least, because orchids are constantly evolving, despite being an ancient species around at the time of the dinosaurs.

Another fun fact is that the genus Orchis comes from an Ancient Greek word meaning “testicle”! It’s due to bulbous shape of their tubers. The term “orchid” is a shortened version of the family-name Orchidaceae and wasn’t introduced until 1845.

A Three-Toothed Orchid (Neotinea tridentata) we also saw in Durmitor – sounds dinosaury!

Have I convinced you that Montenegro’s wild orchids are actually pretty cool? Come and spot them with us, together with some stupendous views, on our Lake Skadar adventures (April-June) or later this summer on our adventures in the mountains, hiking or mixing up multiple outdoor activities.

If you’re an orchid expert or group of botanists who would like to create some specialist orchid-holiday magic with us, get in touch!

Just checking to make sure it isn’t really a bee!

All photography by me. Please ask if you’d like to use.


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