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

O. aurelia was first described from Genoa (Italy) in 1989 and it takes its name from the celebrated ancient Roman highway, the Via Aurelia, from which it also derives its common name of the Via Aurelia Ophrys. It is a member of the ten strong, southern European O. bertolonii group.

This is an extremely rare orchid, largely confined to the hills and mountains of the Mediterranean hinterland from Bouches-du-Rhone in France, to the north west coast of Italy. Its precise distribution is not known with certainty and this position is further complicated by the presence of several similar species within its range. O. bertolonii, O. saratoi, O. magniflora (O. catalaunica) and O. drumana all exhibit an overlap with O. aurelia in some parts of its territory, thus causing potentially significant difficulties with identification.

Perhaps the key characteristic of this species is its size and although some of the aforementioned species can very occasionally reach a height of 30cms, O. aurelia routinely exceeds this, up to a maximum of 40cms. As well as its height, it is a robust plant with large flowers that tend to be more intensely coloured than the other group members with which it may be found.

The precise taxonomic status of this plant is a point of disagreement among experts, with some declining to accept any separation from the similar O. catalaunica and O. magniflora, considering them all to be geotypes of the same species. Molecular analysis may soon settle the argument but their is little doubt that morphologically, O. aurelia is, as has already been mentioned, a noticeably more robust plant with deeper colouration. The photographs come from Var and date from the second week of May.