EU Project “Interactive Conservation Platform for Orchids Native to Greece-Turkey (ICON)”

Harvest of wild terrestrial orchid species for the traditional delicacy Salep, used to prepare either a hot drink or to augment ice cream (kahramanmaraş or maraş dondurma), amounts to an estimated 60 t annually, which equates to the destruction of 120 million wild orchids in Turkey each year (Sezik, E. 2015). The Salep drink was once sought throughout the Ottoman Empire, even as far as Germany and England. Today Salep is still popular in Asia Minor where Turkey is the main consumer, as well as, in Albania, Cyprus and Greece. Salep is also used in Ayurveda and Unani medicine in India and Pakistan. In addition, the wild orchids of Greece and Turkey are threatened by habitat loss, mainly through changes in land use, especially in touristic areas, and through overgrazing, as well as, uncontrolled use of agrochemicals affecting also their pollinators. Orchid habitats in the Greek islands are particular fragile (Petrou, N. 2015). The Greek-Turkish biogeographical area includes an orchid biodiversity hot spot, unique to Europe and Asia Minor, with more than 400 orchid species. The genus Ophrys, the so-called “bee-orchids”, is most abundant in this region. They are worldwide famous to botanists for their remarkable reproduction behavior. Orchids are also called the “pandas” of the plant kingdom and present a highly attractive asset for a steadily growing eco-tourism. Despite the rapid loss of wild orchids, awareness among the general public and within the relevant authorities is lacking in both countries. The conservation status of native orchids is poorly known. The majority of species have not been evaluated according to criteria of IUCN’s global Red List of Threatened Species, nor nationally assessed. It is just a matter of time before this unique wild and beautiful orchid flora will collapse, irretrievably lost for the coming generations.
Sails-For-Science Foundation had submitted, as main applicant, the ICON proposal to the EU-Turkey co-financed program Civil Society Dialogue between EU and Turkey – IV Environment Grant Scheme (CSD-IV / ENV). The other applicants are also non-profit organizations in Greece and Turkey, the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature (HSPN) and the Turkish Association for the Conservation of Antalya Orchids and Biodiversity (CAOB). Our Action was approved to start in February 2016. Supporting associates of the Action are the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN) Orchid Specialist Group (Species Survival Commission); Switzerland, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (RBG); United Kingdom, and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Centre (SERC); USA. Our project aims to inform civil society in Turkey and Greece, but also competent local bodies and services, about the protection of their flora and particularly wild orchids. The core action is to create a common interactive digital platform and database for the species of orchids in the region. This platform will allow the exchange of information between scientists, institutions, NGOs, services, and naturalists, visitors with special interest in orchids, biodiversity, climate change and other demanding fields, but also with the general public. This Action will include various educational applications and, of course, due to its pilot character, will have the option to expand in the future and include the general flora of both countries. The project entails the creation of common protocols for monitoring rare or endangered species of orchids, information and know-how transfer to Turkish and Greek entities from EU environmental legislation, and implementation of the protection and management of species and regions, as well as, presenting relevant good practices that have been applied within the EU. Updated results of the Action will be disseminated through social media, printed publications, documentary film, exhibitions, accompanied by a series of lectures moving through three cities in Turkey and Greece, respectively, and a final international orchid conference (TORC’17) scheduled in spring of 2017, besides other planned initiatives.

Himantoglossum comperianum Orchis anatolica
Himantoglossum comperianum (left), with its distinctly lavishly hooded flowers, is a rare encounter in few Greek islands, as Lesbos or Samos, but also now in Turkey due to habitat loss and the consumption of its tubers for Salep. (Photo: Alex Korakis)
Orchis anatolica (right) became another tragedy specie in Turkey due to its excessive destruction for the preparation of Salep. (Photo: Ekrem Sezik)

Epipactis tremolsii subsp. Turcica Ophrys heraes
Epipactis tremolsii subsp. Turcica (left) can be considered a kind of nature’s message from Turkey to the Greek islands of Samos, Chios and Lesvos. (Photo: Nikos Petrou)
Ophrys herae
(right) was described first on Samos by Monika Hirth considered to be endemic for the island. (Photo: Giorgos Fakas)


  1. galatia politopoulou says

    Hello Sven and whoever else may see this email, I am the lady interested in the orchid conservation in the Eastern Med, letting you know of a new emails address other than Got an email from a address was it Sven? I ‘d like to find more information about the meeting in Turkey early March, I should book a flight now, if I can. Are Kew Gardens amongst sponsors of the ICON project? RE; skype that you had asked, I am a8inalondino on skype.

    • galatia politopoulou says

      Good grief ! I really didn’t realize this would be public, please hide it !!!

  2. Els Rhijnsburger says

    Great to find that there is going to be a spin-off from Torc ’15 focussed on orchid conservation! I hope I will be able to attend. I strongly recommend that dr. Pant from Nepal is invited, because on Torc ’15 she gave a very inspiring lecture on how locals in her country are taught to use pre-grown orchids for medicine instead of using wild ones from the woods. We had planned to visit her project in February this year but due to the terrible devastaring earthquake from April 15 it was cancelled …..

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