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

This is one of Europe's rarer Pseudophrys with a limited range centered on peninsular Italy and Sicily. It has also been found further south in Malta and quite conceivably exists in a few other stations around the central Mediterranean. Although this orchid was already well known to botanists,
O. lucifera was only described as a species in its own right as late as the year 2000. The paper was compiled by P. Devillers and J. Devillers-Terschuren, being based on plants studied in Monte Argentario, Tuscany and it may be of interest to know that several of these pictures are from the same locus typicus.

Although the individual flowers are relatively large and richly coloured, O. lucifera is not a particularly striking or impressive orchid and easily overlooked. It habitually grows in very small colonies and more usually individually, where it enjoys a position in full sun and frequently in the most inhospitable of terrain  with few other plant species let alone orchids for company. It will succumb and quickly die out if surrounding vegetation gets too rank and it becomes overshadowed. Photos 3 and 6 illustrate very well its  preferred dry, open and rocky habitat.

O. lucifera is a spindly plant with a small number of flowers growing alternately towards the top of the stem, these being relatively large and varying in number between 1 and 3 with 4 being unusual. It is short lived and an early flowerer, appearing in mid March and depending on location, still in bloom through April. The pictures here date from the end of March at a time when many plants were beginning to fade

In Sicily there are several other Pseudophrys with which it may be confused or indeed hybridize and identification can be difficult. In Tuscany however there are far fewer species and its habitat preferences and early flowering combine to make recognition reasonably straightforward.