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Dactylorhiza elata

This species was first described from Mazoula, Algeria by Poiret in 1786. Its specific name refers to its tall stature, a feature which has contributed to its common name of Robust Marsh Orchid. It is a member of the D. praetermissa group of the genus Dactylorhiza.

D. elata is a western Mediterranean species that ranges from north Africa up through the Iberian peninsula and into France as far as the Department of Indre. It is hugely variable, being known by several synonyms and with many varieties and/or subspecies formally described and named. Studying almost any authors description of this taxon will leave the reader with the clear and correct impression that D. elata is a species that really doesn't exhibit a single morphological characteristic that can be regarded as uniform and diagnostic.

Four varieties/subspecies are generally recognized but whilst these can perhaps be geographically separated, it is less easy to differentiate them in the field. Intermediates are common and even the latest sophisticated methods of analysis can fail to distinguish features or stabilised variations that positively assign a plant to a particular taxon. This is of course a situation that applies throughout the genus and reflects the hybridogenous background and pollination processes of the dactylorhids. The photos depict a plant that does not fit comfortably into any of the variations although its location would suggest variety ambigua. It is a tall but slender plant of 70cms with a small number of large, unspotted leaves and only a marginal darkening of colouration at the top of the ridged stem.

The pictures come from the Briancon area of south east France dating from the last week of June.