Precious orchid meadows plundered by thieves

Photo: Chmee2, Creative Commons 3.0

There aren't many places in the Czech Republic where you would find orchids growing in the wild. A protected nature reserve in Orlicke hory is one of them. It boasts two meadows of broad-leaved march orchids (Dactylorhiza majalis) which create a purple haze every summer. Last weekend they were the target of thieves, who uprooted more than 600 bulbs of these precious flowers.

Photo: Chmee2,  Creative Commons 3.0
In Czech their name is almost unpronounceable - prstnatec majovy - but their appearance more than makes up for it. The broad leaved march orchids attract hundreds of visitors every summer. They have been there for centuries and if any ever disappeared in a visitor's rucksack then the loss was unnoticeable. However last weekend's theft was large scale. Zdenek Zalis of the Nature Reserve administration says that he has no doubt this was the work of professionals:

"If it had been someone who wanted it for their garden then they would have taken one, two or - at the most - ten specimens. But when someone steals 600 bulbs then they are obviously planning to sell them on the black market. It may have been commissioned. In any case this particular orchid is one of only two which can flourish elsewhere - in someone's garden for instance. The thief was obviously aware of that. If he had taken any of the other precious breeds growing there it would have been a waste of time - they wouldn't have survived in other environs."

Photo: Archive of Radio Prague
The police are investigating the theft while the administration of the Nature Reserve is making plans to increase surveillance of the meadows when the orchids are in bloom next year. Zdenek Zalis again:

"There are several thousand of these orchids growing on the two march meadows, so this theft has not threatened the species in our locality. But if the thieves were to come back once or twice then we could lose the breed for good."

There are about 50 breeds of wild orchids growing in the Czech Republic - mostly on meadows and mountain-slopes in various nature reserves.