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

O. aurelia was first described from Genoa (Italy) in 1989 and it takes its name from the celebrated ancient Roman highway, the Via Aurelia from which it derives its common name of the Via Aurelia Ophrys.  It is a member of the ten strong, southern European O. bertolonii group of Ophrys

This is an extremely rare orchid, largely confined to the hills and mountains of the Mediterranean hinterland from Bouches-du-Rhone in France, to the north west coast of Italy. Its precise distribution is not known with certainty and this uncertainty is further complicated by the presence of several similar species within its range. O. bertolonii, O. saratoi, O. magniflora (O. catalaunica) and O. drumana all overlap with O. aurelia in some, albeit different parts of its territory and can cause significant difficulties with identification.

Perhaps the key characteristic of this species is its size and although some of the aforementioned species can occasionally reach a height of 30cms, O. aurelia routinely reaches more than this, up to a maximum of 35cms. Coupled with this tall stature, it is a robust plant with large flowers that tend to be more intensely coloured than the other group members with which it may be found.

The precise status of this plant is a matter of disagreement between the experts, with some declining to accept any separation from the similar O. catalaunica and O. magniflora, considering them all to be geotypes of the same taxon. Molecular analysis may soon settle the arguement but their is little doubt that morphologically, O. aurelia is, as has already been mentioned, a noticeably robust species with  more vivid colouration. The photographs come from Var and date from the second week of May.