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Sicily 2012   21 - 28 April

This year the goal for our orchid journey was Sicily. This time it was the orchid flora in the Southeastern part of the island we would studie. It ended up with 19 people who lined up at Rome airport after flights partly from Arlanda, partly from Kastrup. From Rome, we then flew with Alitalia to Catania where we picked up our five cars that would be used during the week. We had this time chosen accommodation in Catania which could be a good place to start from for the areas that were planned to visit. The short drive to our apartment hotel, in Catania's southerly suburbs, turned out to be real tricky. Barely halfway there was a halt on the highway because something, probably a truck had caught fire and was burning with huge smoke on the other side of a tunnel that we had to go through. Finally the police turned the traffic direction and we had to drive back to an earlier exit. But with GPS assistance we finally reached to the hotel after about 3-4 hours of delay.

The apartments were found to be of a good standard and newly renovated. We were the first guests of the year. A credit has to be given to the staff, they were very nice and helpful. We were e.g. an after-noon invited to a "Sicilian Sweets" party where they had put up with the typical Sicilian cakes, pastries and other treats, coffee and a glass of champagne. Very much appreciated!


 

Sicilian pastries

The week started well with sunshine and nice weather. It turned out that we had this nice weather rest of the week too. We had, in other words a week with really nice Swedish summer weather, with about 20-25 degrees. Excellent excursion weather! The only thing you could complain about was the signs through all these small towns that you had to drive through. Trying to follow the GPS, frequently led to that you ended up in the middle of the crowded cities with big problems to find the right way out again.


Mount Etna always visible from everywhere

From vegetation we could see that the spring wasn't early this year, maybe slightly late. But the heat, which arrived just in time before we arrived, had speeded up at least the orchids so we did find most of what we had expected. Some species, however, we completely missed, e.g. Anacamptis pyramidalis, a species that probably would have needed a warmer spring to be in bloom at this time. This was the same for Anacamptis coriophora subsp. fragrans that we didn’t see. That Limodorum abortivum, wouldn’t be flowering was perhaps more expected. Those plants we saw were not higher than 5-6 cm. Another species that might have been hit of a chilly spring was Orchis anthropophora, an otherwise common species that we only saw once the last day.



Orchis anthropophora

Sicily has a lot of orchids in O. fusca / subfusca group and as usual those were difficult to set correct name at. Only looking at these species with years apart, it is almost impossible to distinguish the species. Some uncertainty exists in some of the species identification made in the writing below. More enjoyable is it to find those species that are easy to identify. Two species, both of which have a very limited distribution in Sicily, are Ophrys laurensis and Ophrys mirabilis. These we managed to find both and as said here there was no difficulty with those identifications.

 

Ophrys laurensis

Another note we did was for Ophrys tenthredinifera or O. grandiflora as we might call it now. What I remember from our last visit in these parts of Sicily (2003) this was one of the more common that we saw. Now, we did not find many and very few if any of that really big, colorful variety. In contrast, what we failed to do last time, was finding Ophrys lacaitae, the much sought after, large-flowered, yellow Ophrys. This year we had it on at least four different sites. In addition, we also found what looked to be hybrids with O. calliantha respective O. oxyrrhynchos.

In total we saw about 50 species during the week, a result that was above our expectations.

The following pages is a report from the our daily excursions with a short presentation of the visited sites and what we found. The route numbers, reffered to below, are the number of the (during the winter) six preplanned routes.

 


Ophrys calliantha x lacaitae




Day 1 Sunday 22 April 2012

Route 1: Etna, Nikolosi - Ragalna


For our first day, we chose Route 1: Etna, Nikolosi - Ragalna. This was one of the shortest of our pre-planned excursions, and since the morning this first day was for shopping in the local grocery store a rather short route was preferable.

The day started well with bright sunshine. The routes site 1 turned out to be no big shot, a really dump! So we proceeded to next site, site 2. Here at the 5 km sign, we parked and then climbed around in the lava mounds to the right of the road. Difficult terrain to get around in, but well worth the effort as we here found, among others, the Sicily endemic (and Sardinia) Orchis branchifortii.

Orchids noted:
Anacamptis morio
Himantoglossum robertianum
Ophrys tenthredinifera
Orchis brancifortii

Orchis brancifortii

Site 3.The site was about 1 km further along the road, also a lava area to the right. Here we found more O. branchifortii but also another Sicily endemic, Serapias orientalis subsp. siciliensis.
Orchids noted:
Orchis brancifortii
Anacamptis longicornu
Ophrys tenthredinifera
Himantoglossum robertianum
Serapias orientalis
ssp.siciliensis

 

Site 5. After site 3, we turned back to the roadcross where the road to site 4 left to the right. But since we decided to drive up to Mount Etna, we chose to skip site 4 and proceed left to site 5, which was about 3.5 km from the roadcross. The area consisted of meadow-like pastures and here we had a lot of interesting species, although we failed to find Dactylorhiza romana subsp. markusii. Some Dactylorhiza plants caused however discussion when they showed signs of both markusii (romana) and sambucina, possible hybrid perhaps?
Orchids noted
Anacamptis papilionacea
Anacamptis papilionacea 
ssp. grandiflora                   
Dactylorhiza-
hybrid                    
Dactylorhiza sambucina             
Neotinea  commutata                 
Neotinea lactea                          
Neotinea tridentata



Neotinea  commutata


Site 6 did not look interesting, dense forest and no possibility for parking. Therefore next stop was Mount Etna after an interesting journey through the lava that a few years ago poured down through the slopes. Here, at almost 2000 m, there was still snow. Heavy clouds had now subsided around Etna's peak and the temperature was not more than about 5 degrees. After visiting the souvenir shops and other shops in the tourist center up here, we drove back home same way as we come. Once back at the hotel the sun shone again and promised well for the next day.









 

Examples of what Etna's lava can do on its way down




Day 2 Monday 23 April 2012

Route 2: Ferla - Necropoli di Pantalica

For this second excursion Route 2: Ferla - Necropoli di Pantalica was the one we would follow. If not Sunday's route had given us so many species, we would today see so much more. In principle, most of the area along the road from Ferla to road's end is very interesting from a botanical point of view.

Site 1 was the area opposite the "Visitors Center" about 4 km from Ferla. The slopes to the left of the road were very rich in orchids, especially Ophrys species.
Most of the day was spent exploring the area from the "Visitors Center" and 5-600 m ahead.
 
Orchids noted:
Anacamptis papilionacea
Anacamptis longicornu
Himantoglossum hircinum,  bud         
Neotinea lactea
Neotinea tridentata
Ophrys apifera                                    
Ophrys incubacea                                
Ophrys lacaitae                                   
Ophrys lacaite x O. biancae                
Ophrys lunulata                                  
Ophrys lutea                                       
Ophrys lutea ssp. minor                     
Ophrys lutea ssp. phryganae                              
Ophrys oxyrrhynchos ssp. biancae   
Ophrys oxyrrhynchos ssp. calliantha
Ophrys oxyrrhynchos ssp. oxyrrhynchos                         
Ophrys speculum                                 
Ophrys tenthredinifera
Orchis italica                                        
Serapias bergonii                                
Serapias orientalis ssp. siciliensis
Serapias vomeracae

 

Ophrys lacaitae

Site 5. Therefore, there was only time for one more stop. This was done at the route's site 5. Here, on the right side of the road (behind a fence), was a narrow open area with grass and behind this, sparse forest. Once again, it proved to be orchid-rich, especially the grassy part between the road and the forest edge but also inside the forest were orchids, such as Anacamptis longicornu. Also roadsides outside the fence had many orchids.
Orchids noted:
Anacamptis longicornu
Anacamptis papilionacea
Ophrys calliantha
x O. lacaitae
Ophrys lunulata
Ophrys lutea
Ophrys lutea
ssp.minor
Ophrys phryganae
Ophrys oxyrrhynchos
ssp.biancae
Ophrys oxyrrhynchos
ssp calliantha
Ophrys speculum
Ophrys tenthredinifera
Serapias bergonii                                      
Serapias orientalis
ssp. siciliensis

 

Ophrys lunulata

After this site the day was almost over. Before we went back home we made a quick stop further along the road (which is a dead end) to take a closer look at some of the graves that once were carved out of the rock of the original population.








Necropoli de Pantalica




Day 3 Tuesday 24 April 2012

Route 3: Buccheri - Lago Santa Rosalia

Tuesday come also with excellent weather for excursions. Already at 9 o'clock it showed +19 degrees. Not surprisingly, it was now Route 3: Buccheri - Lago Santa Rosalia we would follow. Just like Monday excursion we would now go into the heart of the Iblei area. The goal was to find two of Sicily's most rare orchids, Ophrys laurensis on plateau Monte Lauro and Ophrys mirabilis at Lago Santa Rosalia.

Site 1: We therefore headed towards Buccheri and later road SP 6 towards Gitarrana. After a few km we drove over an open area at ​​about 800 m level (next to some large telecom masts). Here we had site 1. This is one of very few sites for Ophrys laurensis. Because it is a rather late species, it was now at the beginning of its flowering period.
Besides O. laurensis there were a lot of other species. We found among other things, the only Orchis provincialis as we saw during our visit. Some O. fusca-types were for us, as usual, difficult to identify correct.
After a few hours we left the area, although there were a lot of areas that could be of interest, e.g. a corresponding and equally large area on the left side of the road.
Orchids noted:
Anacamptis longicornu (also with white and pink flowers)
Anacamptis papilionacea
Neotinea conica                                 
Neotinea lactea                                  
Ophrys bertolonii x ??                        
Ophrys bombyliflora                           
Ophrys.exaltata                                   
Ophrys fusca ssp. calocaerina           
Ophrys fusca ssp. funeria                   
Ophrys fusca ssp. obaesa                  
Ophrys incubacea                 
Ophrys laurensis                                
Ophrys speculum
Ophrys tenthredinifera
Orchis provincialis                                                         
Ophrys laurensis

Site 2: We continued on to Girratana and from there the road SS194 south to Lake Santa Rosalia. Here, before we arrived at site 2, we decided to take our lunch on the trip perhaps most idyllic resting place. In the sun, in the grassy slope, with the lake's waves lapping the shore, tasted our packed lunch, extra good. On the east side of the lake there was a site for Ophrys mirabilis. This is a small plant and it turned out not to be easy to find. But with the help of Remy Souche (a Frenchman who has written several books about Southwestern Mediterranean orchids) who happened to be at the site at this time, we got to see some plants anyway. Also O. mirabilis is a fairly late flowering orchid, there were not many plants at this time, and therefor difficult to find.
Here, too, there were a lot of other species of interest, such as several Ophrys fusca species. One of the most common at this site was Ophrys calocaerina or if it was, as some think that the one at Sicily is, the same as Ophrys fusca subsp. sabulosa.
Orchis noted:
Ophrys bertolonii                                
Ophrys bombyliflora
Ophrys fusca sp.   ?
Ophrys fusca ssp.calocaerina
Ophrys fusca ssp. funerea  ?
Ophrys incubacae
Ophrys lupercalis                                
Ophrys lutea
Ophrys mirabilis                                 

Ophrys phryganae
Ophrys speculum
 
Ophrys mirabilis                                                                        Ophrys sphegodes ssp. sphegodes

                                                                                               Ophrys tenthredinifera


Day 4 Tuesday 25 April 2012

Route 5: Etna north


At day four of our week, we broke the pattern and chose Route 5: Etna north. This was a route that would take us north of Etna via Linguaglossa and further to the northwest. Since we could follow the highway until the exit to Linguaglossa it went pretty fast even though there was many miles to drive. We continued past Linguaglossa towards Randazzo.

Site 1. This was opposite the old disused railway station just before the intersection towards Castiglione / Francavilla. Here we could park at a plane to the right of the road. From there a trail continues and past the lava field, which extends along the main road, and up to the hillock which was the goal. Very nice area for the most part consisting of sparse wood and much herbs in the bottom layer, with a lot of orchids. This was the only place where we saw Dactylorhiza romana subsp. markusii.

Orchids noted:
Anacamptis longicornu
Anacamptis morio
Anacamptis papilionacea
Dactylorhiza markusii                                                                                          Dactylorhiza romana (+ var. alba)
Himantoglossum robertianum
Limodorum abortivum            
Neotinea conica
Neotinea lactea
Neotinea maculata                                  
Neotinea tridentata    
Ophrys incubacae                                                                                                       
 Dactylorhiza romana subsp. markusii                  
Ophrys passionis                     
Orchis italica
Serapias vomeracea