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Dactylorhiza markusii

D. markusii was first described from Palermo, Sicily in 1846 and named in honour of Doctor Markus, a
physician to the then Russian empress ?  

This is a rare orchid of the D. sambucina group which has a central Mediterranean distribution taking in  southern Italy, Sicily, Malta and Sardinia.  It grows  on neutral to acidic substrates in full sun or mid shade and shows a preference for open montane woodland. It's range was once thought to include more westerly locations but it has now been established that these populations in southern Spain and north Africa are in fact those of the very similar D. guimaraesii. 

D. markusii
can very easily be confused with D. romana ,though their individual  habitat  preferences limit (but by no  means eliminate) the possibilities of the two species being found in close proximity. The pictures here come from the Ficuzza forest of Sicily where the plants were to be found at a significantly higher altitude than the far more numerous D. romana.

Distinguishing characteristics of D. markusii include more heavily scalloped lateral lobes, longer bracts that protrude beyond the tip of the topmost flower and an earlier flowering period which sees it past its best by mid April at a time when D. romana is in its prime. D. markusii is almost invariably a yellowish, white colour, although a red variety has been recorded extremely rarely from Sicily.

The photographs come from Sicily and date from early April.