Bee orchid Ophrys apifera
|Best Time to See|
"Pleasant and beautifull flowers, where with nature hath seemed to plaie and disport hir selfe."
- John Gerard, 17th Century botanist.
Small but flamboyant, the bee orchid is one of nature's great mimics. Perched within the large pink sepals are petals shaped and coloured like a visiting bee.
The deception goes further than visual appearance alone: as well emitting a female bee scent, the fake "bee" is hairy to touch.
Where it grows
Open grassland on base-rich soil. Bee orchids like a bit of disturbance – they can occur in disused quarries, on roadsides, even waste ground in towns.
Best time to see
June and July when it flowers.
- It is the County Flower of Bedfordshire.
- In the Language of Flowers it stands for error and industry.
How's it doing?
Stable in mainland Britain but has declined in Ireland, mainly due to habitat destruction. Bee orchids are a protected species in Northern Ireland under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985.
3 things you may not know
- The aim of the mimicry is attract passing male bees in the hope they will try to mate and thus aid pollination. In Britain, however, bee orchids self-pollinate so the deception is not really required.
- This wild flower was once called the "Humble Bee" orchid (Humble being a variation of Bumble).
- According Roman natural historian Pliny the Elder it was used by womenfolk to darken their eyebrows.