|John and Gerry's Orchids of Britain and Europe|
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N. conica is a member of the recently reappraised N. tridentata group and was first described from Portugal in 1805. Its name refers to the conical shape of the inflorescence, though the species doesn't always conform to this description and may appear quite ragged with a far less symmetrical structure.
In the Iberian peninsular N. conica replaces its close relative N. lactea and identification can therefore be made with a high degree of confidence. Not so in other parts of its range however, where contact between the two species has produced many intermediate populations. Nowhere is this more applicable than in Sicily where abundant N. lactea significantly outnumber the rarer N. conica and finding genetically pure colonies can be difficult. Given the close resemblance between these two species, it's interesting to note that despite being members of the same family grouping, they are not closely related. N. conica is in fact much nearer to N. tridentata and research suggests that these two taxons have resulted from a geographic speciation process (allopatric).
The key characteristic that differentiates the two species is the lip. In N. lactea it is kinked in the centre and both the lateral lobes and lip margins are strongly reflexed. In N. conica, the lip, although with a slightly raised pleat in the centre, lacks this kink and the lip margins and lateral lobes are generally either flat or show a marked forward pointing spread. The sepals of N. conica are elongated, acuminate and point forward in a serpentine manner which strongly recalls the tentacles of a squid. This serves as a further distinguishing feature when seeking to separate the species from N. lactea in which the sepals are shorter.
The illustrations are from Sicily and Mallorca, dating from the first week of April.
The following photographs depict plants that in most respects conform to N. conica but which have a lip that even allowing for natural variation, has a greater convexity in the lip profile than would be expected from a genetically pure example of the species. It seems probable that these are intermediates formed as
a result of hybridization with O. lactea.