John and Gerry's    Orchids of Britain and Europe
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Ophrys aesculapii
 

O. aesculapii was first described from Argolide, Greece by Rentz in 1928 and is a member of the large and growing O. mammosa group of Ophrys. It was named after the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius.

This is surely one of Greece's most handsome Ophrys, which although rare and very limited in range, can be numerous in it's favoured stations. One such location is Mount Hymettus (Imitos) to the north of Athens and this has long been a place of pilgrimage for those botanists wishing to maximise their chances of finding this elegant orchid. Unusually amongst the Ophrys of Greece, O. aesculapii is quite distinctive and apart from colouration, not especially variable. The speculum may be simple or complex but is always prominent and well defined with the white edged blue lining contrasting strongly with the dark colouration of the lip. It can easily be confused with O. zeusii but although their is a range overlap in northern Greece, the two species are not often found in association.

Its an endemic whose range is entirely within continental  Greece, largely to the north of the Corinth canal  but also in the north eastern Peloponnese and through Attica to Euobea. Habitat requirements seem to be undemanding and we have found it prospering in both full sun and comparatively heavy shade. Variety Peudoaranifera is a fewer flowered form that occurs sporadically amongst nominate populations  and exhibits a broader speculum with a less noticeably yellow margin.  

The photos are from Mt Hymettus, Attica and the Larissa region of north east Greece dating from the last week of March (Attica) and the third week of April (Larissa).