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

O. massiliensis  was first described from Bouches-du-Rhone, France by Viglione and Vela in 1999 and its name literally means "from Massilia", now known as Marseille. Not all authorities accord this Ophrys full species status and prefer to refer to it as O. sphegodes ssp massiliensis.

This is a recently described taxon which had previously been known as an extremely early flowering and somewhat drab variety of the ubiquitous O. sphegodes. Whilst this description is really quite accurate, it  doesn't emphasize enough just how early in the year this Ophrys can be found. It is certainly the first of the orchids to appear in France and will routinely be in flower on New Years Day (if not at Christmas). For this reason it is a species more familiar to locally based orchid enthusiasts.

The pictures here date from the end of March, in a Spring where unseasonal weather had retarded flowering, but where despite this, of the three dozen or so plants visited,  only two still had flowers that were blemish free and worth recording; many plants had been over for at least a month by this time. O. massiliensis cannot be easily misidentified, given that other O. sphegodes group members will simply not be showing at the same time. Late flowering O. massiliensis plants such as those depicted here may be found in the company of early flowering O. caloptera and O. arachnitiformis but their small size and the relative drabness of the flower  make differentiation quite straightforward.

This is a very rare species which is best known from Bouches-du-Rhone but which ranges very sporadically along the coast as far as northern Liguria in Italy. Typically it is a plant of the calcareous calanques south   of Marseille and its from this location that the accompanying picures originate.