John and Gerry's    Orchids of Britain and Europe
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Serapias olbia


S. olbia was first described by Verguin from Var, southern France in 1907 and it takes its name from the ancient Greek colony of Olbia in and around the area now called Hyeres. It's a member of the S. lingua group of Serapias.

This species is endemic to southern France and more particularly to the coast and hinterlands of the provinces of Var and Alpes-Maritimes where it shows a preference for a sunny position in damp habitats on acidic, siliceous or sandy soils. The moist conditions found in dune slacks, the borders of marshes and damp meadows are favoured but it will also tolerate significantly drier conditions, even garrigue when near the coast.

S. olbia is thought to be of hybrid origin with S. neglecta and S. lingua as the assumed and probably ancient progenitors. Despite this background it is not a particularly varied orchid though in common with most members of its genus, it freely hybridizes and where, as is common, particularly in Var, several Serapias species grow in close proximity, intermediate swarms of morphologically indeterminate plants can result. In genetically pure form it is a distinctive orchid carrying up to five individual flowers (usually two) with grey lined hoods and a brick red, densely hairy epichile.

Except in the wettest conditions, the leaves shrivel quite quickly, leaving a characteristically long stem up to 30cms high and typically with a pair of oppositely placed flowers at the top. S. olbia flowers in April and May. These pictures come from damp meadows in the Bagnols-en-Foret, Var, dating from the first two weeks of May.