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

O. praecox was first described from Sardinia by Corrias in 1983 and belongs to the thirteen member O. exaltata group of Ophrys. It is known by several synonyms and for many years was regarded as a sub-species of the Sicilian endemic, O. panormitana, a classification still preferred by some authorities. Its name (praecox) refers to the species early flowering.

This species is endemic to Sardinia and Corsica where it is both very local and very rare. In Sardinia it is restricted to the north of the island, centred on the Province of Sassari whilst in Corsica it is similarly restricted, but to the southern most parts of the island around Bonaficio. Despite its tolerance of a wide range of habitats and light conditions, it is an extremely shy orchid that is unaccountably absent from large, apparently suitable areas of the islands. As can be seen from the illustrations, O. praecox can be a variable species though typically it is small flowered with a dark red lip and normally concolorous basal field and stigmatic cavity. The speculum is uncomplicated, varying from a simple H, to a pair of parallel lines or droplets and sepals that are green veined white/pink with darker petals.

O. praecox is a very early flowerer but can marginally overlap with O. morisii when the latter appears at the start of April. These two species can sometimes be difficult to separate, this being unsurprising given that O. morisii is thought to be a hybridogenous species with O. praecox or a similar O. exaltata group member as one of the parents. The most reliable way of differentiating them is flowering time as O. praecox will be rapidly declining when O. morisii is just commencing its flowering cycle. The photos come from Sardinia and date from the first week of April at which time the plants were well past their best.