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Ophrys explanata

This Sicillian endemic is a member of the O. bertolonii group and strongly resembles the species after which the grouping takes its title. It was first described from the Palermo region in 1909 and its name literally means "distinct",  which is presumably a reference to its differences from the similar O. bertolonii.   

This choice of name seems somewhat inappropriate given that as already mentioned, its appearance is not particularly distinct from that of O. bertolonii , a plant with it frequently associates. The origins of this species are thought to be hybridogenous, with O. bertolonii and O. panormitana the presumed ancestors. It is clear however that the latter parent has contributed few surviving morphological features to the resultant offspring. The same cannot be said for the former and in the field O. explanata is very difficult to distinguish. Its interesting that in areas where they come into close contact, they rarely form intermediates,  though it should not be inferred from this that O. explanata cannot be variable.

The text books cite several differences between the two species including flower size, sepal shape and lip
curvature but these are extremely difficult to distinguish in situ. Perhaps the most important characteristic that can separate them is the stigmatic cavity which in O. bertolonii is narrow and long, whereas in O. explanata it is broad and short (see picture 3). 

O. explanata is a scarce orchid but in view of the difficulties with identification it is almost certainly under reported. The pictures are all from two plants found growing by a roadside in the Sortino area of south east Sicily. This species flowers earlier than O. bertolonii  but April will see them both in full bloom together.