|John and Gerry's Orchids of Britain and Europe|
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O. ferrum-equinum was first described by Desfontaines from Samos in 1807. Its name refers to the shape of the speculum which is commonly a horseshoe pattern, though as can be seen from the photographs this is often broken into two parallel stripes. It is essentially a Greek orchid although it also occurs in Anatolia and sparingly in neighbouring Albania. O. ferrum-equinum is a member of the large O. mammosa group and is one of the more attractive and distinctive members of what can be a fairly dull and frequently difficult to differentiate family.
It is widespread throughout Greece but can be unaccountably absent from large, seemingly suitable areas. On occasion however it can occur in huge numbers and we recall a colony near Lagonisi in Attica that was thousands strong and formed a vast drift along a shallow valley near the coast. The flowers appear jet black in strong light and the contrast of dark body and light petals make it a real challenge to photograph successfully.
The species is highly variable and many of the more frequently occurring variants have been described though all seem to fall within the nominative type. There are however three accepted varieties, namely labiosa, subtriloba and parnassica, all of which occur throughout the same range, though never in large numbers.
The illustrations are all variations of the nominative variety with photos 1 and 2 being perhaps the most typical. Photo 10 is an interesting example which comes from Chios and depicts a plant that carries a rudimentary "necklace" as with the closely related O. spruneri.
The following oddities are all from Mount Hymettus near Athens.