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

O. mesaratica
was first described from Crete in 1990 and takes its name from the plain of Mesara in the south of the island. It is one of six members of the O. iricolor group and has a range centred on southern and western Crete, though many believe the species has a wider distribution in the southern Aegean basin. Its presence in Malta has now been discounted after a 2012 paper by Delforge, in which the taxon was split into early and late flowering species, the former being newly named O. hospitalis and the latter O. vallesiana. The pictures here are from Lesbos and conform morphologically to O. mesaratica, though in full bloom at the end of March at a time when their Cretan cousins would have gone over.

The species common name is the Cretan Blue Orchid but this is perhaps somewhat complimentary to an orchid that although possessing a pleasing architectural form, is in fact a rather small and dull flower. The speculum is bluish, sometimes steely grey, often marbled with black or dark brown and quite unlike the sometimes extravagant colouration and markings of O. iricolor .  

Although the range of the two species overlap, they are unlikely to be confused due to the very early flowering (from December to March) of O. mesaritica. This species was once regarded as an early flowering O. iricolor and there are those that still hold to this view. Both species are large, robust plants but the smaller flower size in O. mesaratica is diagnostic. Another key distinguishing feature is the colouration of the underside of the lip which in O.iricolor is always pale purple but variably green/brown in O. mesaritica.