Fly orchid Ophrys insectifera

“Some (orchids) have floures, wherein is to be seen the shape of sundry sorts of living creatures; some the shape and proportion of flies...”  - John Gerard,16th century botanist and herbalist   

Description

A clever mimic, the flowers closely resemble little flies, attracting insects to pollinate them. They are not easy to spot as their rather drab colouring blends with the surrounding vegetation, but they often form colonies of ten or more plants.

How to spot it

The flowers are carried in a loose spike of four to ten, with long bracts curving upward behind each flower. They have yellow-green sepals and a divided, red-brown, velvety lower lip, crossed by a white band, and two little red-brown upper petals. The stem rises from shiny, dark green, narrowly oval leaves and in light shade may reach as much as 60 cm.

Where it grows

Usually found on chalk and limestone soils in open deciduous woodland and scrub, but also recorded from grassland, chalk-pits, limestone pavement, disused railways, spoil heaps and, rarely, unstable coastal cliffs.

Best time to see

In flower from May to July.

How's it doing?

The species declined dramatically before 1930, especially in East Anglia. The losses have continued since, but at a reduced rate, mostly due to scrub encroachment, the closing of woodland canopies, woodland clearance and drainage of fens.

3 things you might not know

  • Although the flowers resemble flies, the mimicry is perfect for attracting digger wasps, which pollinate it.
  • The scent released by the flowers mimics the female wasp’s pheromones, tricking the males into attempting to mate with them, picking up pollen in the process.
  • Pollination rates are low, with only about 20% of the flowers setting seed.