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Neotinea lactea

This s an extremely familiar Mediterranean orchid whose name refers to the milky colour of its flowers. It was first described from Algeria in 1798 and originally grouped with the Neotinea genus before then being reclassified as an Orchis. Subsequent study has again been given to the O. tridentata group and this has resulted in all the members, including O. lactea being returned to the Neotinea stable.

N. lactea is a common orchid with a known range throughout the Mediterranean, its  distribution is not however fully understood  due to confusion with  N. tridentata,  N. conica  and  N. commutata.  There are though two  significant characteristics which can help differentiate N. lactea from the other three. Firstly it has an elongated inflorescence that usually (but by no means always) carries numerous tightly packed flowers whereas the latter two species have a conical shaped inflorescence and in the case of N. tridentata the flower head tends to be flat topped with a longer stem. The second distinguishing feature is the lip, which in this species has a knee-joint profile below the stigmatic cavity and strongly recurved lip edges. The overall impression is of a body builder throwing his chest forward and shoulders back. ( Photograph 1 illustrates this point very well ).

The other species all have flat profiled lips with edges that are either straight or curved forward. A less reliable feature of N. lactea  is the colouration of the inner hood which is generally greener and more boldly lined. As can be seen from the illustrations, the markings and colouration can vary widely from pure white to an almost solid dark pink, the typical flower is however pale pink with darker spots or striation.  The photographs come from Crete, Lesbos and Sicily and were all taken during the first two weeks of April.