• amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP);
  • Gower similarity;
  • hybridization;
  • identification;
  • internal transcribed spacer (ITS);
  • maternal inheritance;
  • Orchidaceae;
  • Orchis militaris;
  • plastid microsatellites;
  • principal coordinates;
  • speciation

We report the first confirmed occurrence in Britain of Orchis × angusticruris Franch. ex Rouy, a hybrid between two closely related orchid species of anthropomorphic Orchis (O. purpurea Huds. × O. simia Lam.) that hybridize frequently in Continental Europe. Seven individual hybrids, most likely F1 plants representing a single interspecific pollination event, first flowered with both parents in May 2006 at a nature reserve in the Chiltern Hills near Goring, Oxfordshire. Univariate and multivariate morphometric analyses (43 characters plus 12 indices), internal transcribed spacer sequencing, plastid microsatellites and amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) analyses together readily separate the parents and confirm that O. purpurea was the ovule parent and O. simia the pollen parent, presumably reflecting the greater frequency and/or later flowering period of the latter at the site. This study reinforces a more general observation that, in most orchids, the ovule parent contributes substantially more to the hybrid phenotype than does the pollen parent, perhaps reflecting cytoplasmic inheritance. In contrast, the hybrids are placed closer to O. simia than to O. purpurea in the AFLP tree. Apparently recent arrivals, the few O. purpurea plants at Goring contrast genetically with the two other small populations of this species known in the Chilterns, but rather are consistent with relatively uncommon Continental populations. This suggests that the plants may have been deliberately introduced at Goring by man, although transport from the Continent in high-level air currents cannot be ruled out. The Goring population of O. simia is likely to have become genetically impoverished through (1) preferential removal of many relatively fit plants to herbaria in the 19th century and/or (2) a catastrophic population crash in the first half of the 20th century. However, both our re-examination of herbarium specimens and our population genetic data indicate past hybridization among anthropomorphic Orchis species occurring naturally in the Chilterns. Thus, we tentatively recommend retention of the hybrid plants at Goring, despite their likely anthropogenic origin from Continental material and the partial viability of their pollen and seeds, which offers opportunities for future introgression. Although the Goring hybrids broadly resemble morphologically O. militaris, another anthropomorphic Orchis still found at two Chiltern localities, sufficient morphological and molecular differences were observed to strongly refute our initial hypothesis that O. militaris could have originated through hybridization between ancestors that resembled O. purpurea and O. simia. The comparatively complex genetic properties evident in both O. simia and O. purpurea merit further study. © 2008 The Linnean Society of London, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2008, 157, 687–711.