Bee orchid Ophrys apifera

Status
Best Time to See
Country
Colour
Habitat Grassland

"Pleasant and beautifull flowers, where with nature hath seemed to plaie and disport hir selfe."

- John Gerard, 17th Century botanist.

Description

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.

Cultural info

  • 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.

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