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The discovery of Ophrys fusca ortuabis, a Sardinian orchid

Ophrys fusca ortuabis 
The small Ophrys fusca ortuabis, an endemic Sardinian orchid mostly found in the Sarcidano area, is the leading act stage in "Ortuabis", a short film by Vincenzo Rodi (Ortuabis di Vincenzo Rodi - Youtube), winner of the first "International Botanical Short Film Festival", organised within Orticolario, the gardening trade show held in Cernobbio (Province of Como) from 5 to 7 October this year.

This very rare orchid species was discovered in 2002 by Lucia Manca and Nino Mura, a couple from the town of Oristano, whose story is told in the short film together with that of another orchid enthusiast, Maria Pia Grasso. Lucia tells about her love for the countryside round the village of Laconi and the origins of her love affair with this endemic orchid species. The musical score by Stefano Guzzetti and the spectacular images of the Ortuabis countryside shot by Vincenzo Rodi convey with vibrant immediacy the spell cast on Lucia and Nino by this colourful, life-brimming nature.

Lucia's interest was first aroused by the behaviour of the orchid of the genus Ophrys. This small flower mimics the appearance of the female bee and through colours and smells attracts the male bee, whose attempts at mating ensure the flower's pollination. But observing on a daily basis this bizarre behaviour of nature, in 2002 Lucia discovered a new species of Ophrys, never before reported by the scientific community. With the tenacity born of true passion, she convinced some local experts to visit Ortuabis during the orchid's blossoming season and validate her discovery of the small Ophrys. This was called Ophrys fusca ortuabis, from the place where it was first reported.

Film director Vincenzo Rodi stumbled on Nino and Lucia's fascinating story by chance. Himself a devotee and expert of orchids, he graduated in Natural Sciences in 1994 with a dissertation on the wild orchids of his homeland, the mountainous Barbagia district of Mandrolisai and Belvì. He then set off on a career as a cameraman, but then in 2011 he returned to his old passion, orchids, embarking on the ambitious project of making a documentary on wild Sardinian orchids. Over a period of two springs he managed to record on video all the Sardinian species (about 65), plus many varieties and hybrids. However, there were two species he could not find - they have apparently become extinct. Some are exceedingly rare, and found only in a handful of individuals, (10-15 plants in all, the only ones in Italy), 13 are endemic to the Mediterranean basin, and eight are endemic only to Sardinia. However, some key footage was still missing: pollination of the genus Ophrys. The additional film shooting is scheduled for the Spring of 2013, to be followed by editing.

Meanwhile, Vincenzo met Nino and Lucia and recorded an interview as part of a series of video talks with orchid lovers scattered in Sardinia. After the interview however, Vincenzo found out about the short film competition, on the theme of "The discovery of a spontaneously-growing orchid in Europe". He therefore decided to take part in the competition, adapting the interview to the required length, and won the first prize. Besides being gratified by the award, Vincenzo now hopes it will help him find someone to fund his full-length documentary film. As Sardinia is the haunt of orchid experts and lovers from all over Europe, the final project is to create a multi-language DVD and accompanying field book with description and photos for each species.

A simple story such as Lucia's and Nino's and Vincenzo's ambitious projects both prove how individual contributions large and small can help the scientific community defend Sardinia's biodiversity. A huge heritage worth protecting for many reasons. From the value of these botanical rarities as tourist attractions to their potential use for research and innovation. Indeed, endemic Sardinian species can be the subject of studies and research in the pharmaceuticals and cosmetics fields. The Alghero HQ of the Science and Technology Park of Sardinia, for instance, offers private parties and research bodies use of its labs and pilot plants for the extraction of essential oils and active principles. These processes can be applied to extract products from Sardinian medicinal plants.

Useful links
Ortuabis di Vincenzo Rodi - Youtube

Sara Palmas

Image by kind permission of Vincenzo Rodi.