John and Gerry's    Orchids of Britain and Europe
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Orchis brancifortii

O. brancifortii
is an orchid endemic to the islands of Sicily and Sardinia and was named after Prince Brancifortii, the sponsor and protector of Antonina Bivona-Bernardi, a well known Sicilian botanist of the early nineteenth century and the man who first described this species in 1813. It is a member of the O. mascula group of Orchis, being very similar to the closely related O. quadripunctata.

It's not a particularly variable orchid, its colour ranging from pale lilac to mid crimson, though white forms are occasionally encountered. O. brancifortii favours calcareous soils and rocky positions in full sun, these conditions being perfectly provided in the Sicilian lava fields on the southern slopes of Mount Etna, where the species can be found growing in large but loose colonies among the lower level, weathered, igneous rock formations. This species shows a tolerance for newly formed lava flows, a habitat choice it shares with the newly described O. grassoana. In Sardinia it grows in crevices within calcereous rock formations, largely in the south of the island.
This Orchis is by no means common either in Sardinia or Sicily but once found is not easily confused with any other species. Hybridization is rare, although its choice of habitat brings it into contact with very few other orchid species and opportunities are therefore limited.

It can be a tall plant (up to 30cms) and older established tubers may produce multiple flowering stems that form highly attractive clumps. It may equally grow as a small single stem, often in some highly inhospitable positions, projecting from the fissures of rocks or cliff ledges. The photographs are all from the Ragalna area of southern Sicily and date from the second week of April.