John and Gerry's    Orchids of Britain and Europe
Home Back to Orchis species Links

Orchis italica

O. italica was first described by Poiret from Italy in 1798. Since that date it has become perhaps the most familiar of Mediterranean orchids, arguably the most abundant. It is a member of the O. militaris group and commonly known as the Naked Man Orchid, a reference to the general outline of the flower.

O. italica is widespread in the southern Mediterranean and may be found from North Africa up to central Italy and central Spain whilst in the east it reaches Israel and is particularly common in Greece, the Aegean basin, Crete and Cyprus. The species is not a particularly variable one and its colouration is usually pink, although white is not at all uncommon and in Sicily there exists a hyperchromatic variant, purpurea that is deep red. As one would expect with such a plentiful species, hybridization is frequent, particularly with O. militaris group members, one of the commoner hybrids being O. italica x anthropophora. Intergeneric hybridizations have also been recorded.

O. italica
is a robust orchid that can reach 70cms and contain up to a hundred individual florets within the inflorescence. The flowers are distinctive and notable for the length of the appendage between the secondary lobes (legs) of the lip, this being an easy differentiator when comparing to O. militaris with its much stubbier appendage and secondary lobes. The leaves are also a distinct feature of the species, being significantly undulate and forming a tight and unmistakable pale green rosette. 

Unlike most of the O. militaris group, O. italica it is not restricted to alkaline substrates and tolerates most nutrient poor soils, where it is often the only orchid species present. The pictures are from various southern European countries dating from April and May.