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

This is one of the ten members of the O. lutea group, six of which have been enrolled since the turn of the century. O. melena however has occupied this position since its formal description by Renz in 1928, its specific name meaning "dark". It was first discovered on Mount Hymettus in 1928 and this area of Attica, close to Athens, still forms the hub of its limited range.

O. melena is endemic to Greece and is at its most frequent to the south and east of the Gulf of Corinth, more sparingly in the Aegean and Peloponnese. Until recently it was thought to be present in Gargano but although morphologically similar, these plants have now been formally described as O. pseudomelena. O. melena is an uncommon orchid which unlike the more widespread O. sicula, O. lutea  and O. phyrganae , does not tend to be found in great numbers, even where conditions are most suitable. It can easily be distinguished from its cousins by the extent of the brown hair which completely covers the labellum.

O. melena has been recognized for many years and its status has been a point of contention throughout that period. Some authorities believe it to be merely within the natural range of O. sicula , others a hybrid between that species and fusca sl. The latter argument would help to explain the high variability of this species. The overall position has been further complicated by the formal recognition in 2010 of O. praemelena, a very similar species with significant overlaps of range.

The illustrations are from Chios and Mt Hymettus, dating from the first week of April.